Over the past 22 years Steve Vonderharr has responded to the early encouragement of blues veteran R. J. Mischo to become one of the most respected and influential veterans of the Twin Cities blues scene. Working with his own band, Juke City, along with a number of popular Twin Cities combos such as The Soulmates and Minnesota Barking Ducks, Vonderharr has solidified his position as an entertainer and musician.
From The Shadows is Steve Vonderharr's first solo recording and a wonderful offering by a man who gave up his musical endeavors for a time, so that he could spend more time with his family. Assisted by a number of other know local music talent including Mic McCormick, Wilbur Cole, Tom Hunter and Bill Pelletier among others who have billed themselves as The Knockout Blues Revue, Vonderharr sings and plays his way through this ten song CD that includes four Vonderharr originals and six exceptional covers by everyone from Marion "Little Walter" Jacobs ("Juke (Your Cat Will Play)" and "Blue Midnight") to Willie Dixon ("Mellow Down Easy").
Vonderharr and his band offer favorable comparisons to another talented harp-based combo, namely Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers. This is especially true on numbers where Vonderharr makes extensive use of keyboardists Wilbur Cole or Tom Hunter. The CD also makes use of some fine guitarists too, including Twin Cities mainstay Mic McCormick, along with John O'Keefe and John Franken.
From The Shadows opens with the Little Walter tune "JUKE (Your Cat Will Play)" which Vonderharr dedicates to the late harp player for The Fabulous Minnesota Barking Ducks, Pete Cottrell. "The Cost Of Your Love," is the first song offering favorable comparisons to Rod Piazza on this Vonderharr original as Wilbur Cole pounds the keyboards. One of my favorite songs on the CD is "Messin' With My Bread," a John Lee Hooker tune that Vonderharr takes the edge off of and turns into a lighter jump tune. On "The Party Song" Vonderharr receives vocal assistance from Mary Rancone giving the band a different sound as the two vocalists assemble a tasty duet.
As From The Shadows moves into the second half with another original, "Boyz Will Be Boyz." This up tempo tune includes a chorus by the all male band members chanting "Boys will be boys." As a long time fan of the music of Willie Dixon, I also loved Vonderharr's stripped down version of "Mellow Down Easy." The sparse, clean sound is continued on the following song, "It's Too Late Brother," on a very similar sounding tune dominated by Vonderharr's excellent harp work.
From The Shadows ends with two of the best songs on the CD, Eddie Taylor's "Big Town Playboy" and "Blue Midnight" written by Little Walter. "Big Town Playboy" whether the Eddie Taylor original, the T-Bone Walker cover or Vonderharr's latest version, is a great song. From a pure musical standpoint, "Blue Midnight" may very well be the best song on the CD with Vonderharr providing excellent harp work in the tradition of the late Little Walter Jacobs.
Steve Vonderharr is one member of the long Twin Cities tradition of turning out exceptional harp players including R. J. Mischo, Big George Jackson, Curtis Blake, Lynwood Slim and even Kim Wilson who passed through the Twin Cities on his way to fame as a founding member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Steve Vonderharr carries on the tradition of fine harp players with his release of From The Shadows. To pick up a copy of From The Shadows, visit the Cold Wind Records website at www.coldwind.com or Steve Vonderharr's website at www.bluesonstage.com/stevev.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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