The 1999 release on Old Hat called "Violin, Sing The Blues For Me, African American Fiddlers 1926-1949," demonstrated the past links between the violin and blues music. In recent years, however, there are very few blues violin players around, the obvious exception being the multi-instrumentalist Clarence Gatemouth Brown. "Almost Home" shows that Ruby Harris also belongs on the list. Although Harris may be a relatively new name to some, his reputation is sufficient to attract the likes of Pinetop Perkins, Sugar Blue, Lester Davenport and the late lamented Little Mack Simmons to appear on his latest CD.
The opening track ("I'm Gonna Leave") cuts straight to the chase, with Harris leading the way. The basic song structure is a standard blues in the "Hoochie Coochie Man" mold, and it is followed by "9 Days" where there are some obvious similarities between Harris and Gatemouth Brown's styles. This time the tune follows the mold of "When Things Go
Wrong." These two tunes offer some insight into the workings of Harris and the band. There is a familiar feel to most of the original tunes, although Harris adds original twists to make them his own.
Harris can make the violin sing, swing or weep as appropriate, picking the style to suit the type of blues. There are plenty of blues styles on offer too, including the near rockabilly of "Double Standard," the Diddley-beat of "Pour That Water" and the uptempo rocking "Thank You." Harris also ventures into jazz territory with "Midnight Blues" which sounds like the sort of tune that Stephane Grapelli or Joe Venuti might have recorded, and
even gets psychedelic with the closing "Jimi With Strings."
"Almost Home" shows that there is still plenty of room for violin in the blues. You need to be as good a player as Harris, however, and have to have a real feel for the blues. In many places Harris uses the violin in the same way that a lot of bands would use a guitar, but he also mixes it up with guitar too. "Almost Home" is much more than an intriguing oddity,
and will pleasantly surprise those who are looking for something a little different, as well as those who like the violin led material of Gatemouth Brown. You can pick up a copy of "Almost Home" from Harris' web site (www.rubyharrismusic.com).
This review is copyright © 2001 by Gordon Baxter, 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.