Studebaker John Grimaldi has been blessed with what many of us wish we had. He grew up in Chicago and was around when the city was still home to Big Walter Horton and Maxwell Street was still the Sunday hangout of One Arm John Wrencher, both brilliant harmonica players with chops to spare. He spent years honing his own talent by sitting in all over town with the likes of Lefty Dizz, Jr. Wells, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Hound Dog Taylor, and others. Primarily a harp player, it was seeing Hound Dog that inspired him to learn slide guitar. This is Grimaldi's maiden voyage for the Evidence label and it's a fine piece of work with perhaps a few flaws.
The opener, "Burned By Love," has a flowing eeriness to it, and Grimaldi's vocals are strong and impassioned, and while his tone is tough with the favored Dan Electro, his guitar work here lacks the necessary knockout punch hoped for. "End To The Lies" is a minor key rumble with the band laying a solid foundation for some more slide, and this one almost gets there. A fine songwriter, Studebaker John penned the full-dozen tracks here, and "Juke Joint Jump" opens with some hefty chromatic harp, but during his solos, it's surprising to hear a veteran of Grimaldi's pedigree play closer to John Popper than Carey Bell. Leaving some space in this driving boogie would have helped immensely. Things get better with "Meant To Be," a solid Chicago romp with some great vocals and "Nothing For Nothing" smolders along nicely. "Rich Man" stomps along with the propulsive rhythm section of Felton Crews on bass and Earl Howell on drums hitting stride, but while Grimaldi's guitar playing is workmanlike, it fails to peak. "Harpology" finds Grimaldi back on harp for an instrumental that nods to Little Walter and Pat Brennan's piano rides along with some good fills while Joe Zaklan tips his hat to Robert Jr. Lockwood. Some Jimmy Reed style harmonica on "Don't You Take It" is fine, and the funky "Nothing Comes Easy" chugs ahead with more solid Mississippi saxophone. "Don't Know What You Do" features more powerful vocals and some nasty slide making way for the slow "Lock And Chain," with a great behind-the-beat feel, and the set closes out with the title cut, "Howl With The Wolf," simply the best track here, with gritty, fat-toned harp and Grimaldi finding a menacing sound by singing through the harmonica rig.
Studebaker John Grimaldi is a potent songwriter with the proof all over this CD and he's certainly got the goods when he digs out his harmonicas. His guitar playing is solid and he's come up with his own sound and style, which is a huge plus, but he lacks a little in building his solos to a climax. There are no guitar pyrotechnics here (blues can do without any more of that) - just solid original songs that hinge on greatness - some hit the mark, and a couple just miss. As a big fan of this artist, I look forward to his next disc... in the meantime, this'll do, along with his other excellent work on the Blind Pig label.
EvidenceMusic@aol.com will help with questions, and 1-800-474-5131 is a toll-free number for use also.
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.
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