Samplers or compilations are great as a means of introducing newcomers to an artist's work and they also allow collectors to get a taste of what's available on a specific label if they haven't yet ventured there. Telarc is certainly one of the leading imprints here in the States issuing blues on a regular basis and the addition of "In The Pocket" to their large catalog will help many who might not yet be familiar with what they have been doing as far as blues recording. At 71-minutes, featuring 14 tracks, with a great assortment of grizzled veterans from the harp arena, the varied tastes are appetizing and filling at the same time.
Leading off with "Mighty Fine Boogie" from Ronnie Earl's latest, a gathering of friends, James Cotton and Kim Wilson blow up a storm with plenty of dynamics and stellar backing from Earl and his cohorts, then John Primer steps up with "Knocking At Your Door," featuring the solid talents of Matthew Skoller on harp, a player who stays perfectly in the pocket behind Primer's soulful voice until called upon, at which time he lets loose with some fine roaring and muscular tone. "T.D.'s Boogie" emanates from the original 'Superharps' disc on Telarc and offers the highly effective playing of both James Cotton and Billy Branch before Hubert Sumlin hands in a nice reading of the overworked "Rock Me Baby." Annie Raines supports Hubert's workmanlike vocal and pitches in some excellent juke-joint blowing before making way for Cotton's third appearance with "Lightning," from his 'Fire Under The Hill' disc of a few years ago, where Rico McFarland took guitar chores and piano stalwart, David Maxwell, who played so much like Otis Spann here, he sounds like the living spirit of the man. Carey Bell joins Robert Lockwood for Robert Johnson's "Steady Rollin' Man" and the pairing works marvelously as they manage seamless interplay, then it's Charlie Musselwhite's turn for "In Your Darkest Hour," where the frontman is assisted only by T-Bone Wolk's lowdown bass. From the Willie Dixon tribute disc of a while back, Kenny Neal delivers a rustling and respectful version of "Bring It On Home," originally waxed by the great Rice Miller, or Sonny Boy Williamson II, and later, Jerry Portnoy gets some room for "Muddy's Shuffle," more-or-less a brimming instrumental workout (with occasional vocal assistance from Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson) from the Muddy Waters Tribute Band disc. The larger-than-life influence of Sonny Boy II looms over the late Junior Wells, who left "The Goat," a storming shuffle loaded with Wells' pungent harp and some Delta-infused slide guitar from Corey Harris before giving way to Raful Neal and Lazy Lester for "Starlight Diamond," a relaxed Louisiana ballad with plenty of bayou harp from the 'Superharps II' disc. James Cotton returns for "Fire Down Under The Hill," a slow and brooding ten-and-a-half minute instrumental with more brilliant piano from Maxwell and heartfelt guitar from Rico McFarland, then Snooky Pryor gives a startling performance of "Pony Blues" from Telarc's Charley Patton tribute disc. The set closes with "Harp To Harp," a grumbling eleven-minute slow blues which allows a listen to Charlie Musselwhite, Sugar Ray Norcia, Billy Branch, and Mr. Cotton, all together, with a special mention going to Kid Bangham for his disgustingly brutal guitar.
As an introduction or sampler, "In The Pocket" does what it sets out to do by offering great looks at this gathering of superb harp players, and it's highly recommended for those unfamiliar with the work of these artists. One minor quibble is Telarc's lack of attention to proper detail, where a number of tracks list vocals by Kim Wilson or James Cotton (who thankfully didn't sing on anything here), when there actually are none. Most times it's rushing a release that allows these mistakes to go unnoticed and one would have to gather that is what happened with this, but as is generally the case, the music matters more than session notes, and based on that merit alone, this gets a strong thumbs-up. www.telarc.com will offer further information on this and a growing catalog, plus availability to email notices for and up-coming releases, promotional giveaways, and much more.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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