One of the problems with self-produced works, is that seldom is there impartial input from someone who can lend help, when and where most needed. Likewise, one of the problems with reviewing certain works, is that being impartial makes for honest write-ups. Pete Fox is, without a doubt, a strong and muscular harp player that put himself in the company of people that can play their instruments. That being said, blues recordings are not based on technical proficiency alone; there's a lot more to the coin's two sides. Equal parts dynamics, vocal ability, sensitivity, versatility, recording quality, and more, come into the picture. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot to rescue this attempt from a sameness that permeates the set.
As good a player as Fox is, he allowed himself only one original, the title track, while the remainder of the disc is made up of Little Walter gems, Sonny Boy classics, Junior Wells covers, and more. I could listen (almost forever) to interpretations of great blues, as long as all the necessary ingredients are there. What's lacking here is not respect for the music, there's plenty of that, but vocally, Fox is mostly a monotone singer, with a limited range, and the grooves fall under the "Chicago shuffle" heading, without much variation. Lick-wise, Fox manages some great harp work, blowing furiously and covering a lot of territory in the 50 minutes. The title cut is a breakneck paced instrumental, with room for Rich Del Favero's fine piano, Bobby Rand's chunky guitar, and Fox's steady harp. The harmonica tones are mixed up quite well, going from fat and heavy, to lighter shades, in Wells' "Come On In This House." Credited to Sam Hopkins, for some unknown reason, "Goin' Away" is actually the Jimmy Rogers' chestnut ambling along nicely with good guitar and harp. Fox doubles on fair guitar, and dry, Sonny Boy acoustic blowing for "The Goat," while Snooky Pryor's "Crazy About My Baby" features more fine piano, that gets buried as Fox's rhythmic harp is a little too overpowering, which also happens to some guitar parts occasionally.
Credit goes to Pete Fox for a fine attempt on his first outing as a recording artist, but many things need to be considered before heading back to the studio. His vocals are an unfortunate detraction from a workmanlike set of blues, and the overall sound throughout the CD is a little too muddy. Tom D'Angelo's bass and David Kroll's drums are solid, but perhaps too on-top-of-the-beat. With little or no reverb on the voice, which would have helped immensely, Fox vocalizes best when he relaxes and doesn't force the issue, but he does too little relaxing as a singer. Pete Fox is a harp player with a lot to offer, but next time around, I'd look for a tougher voice to match the playing. www.harmonicafox.com for more info and ordering.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.