The pedigree of Boston's Coots is pretty impressive. Lead vocalist/harmonica maestro Jim Fitting was the harper with Treat Her Right. He also worked some with Bonnie Raitt. Pianist Evan Harriman also owes allegiance to Orchestra Morphine. Bassist Bill 'The King' Kane worked for a bit with G Love and Special Sauce, and drummer Phil Neighbors put in time with H-Bomb Ferguson and Big Joe Duskin. One of the guest artists, Billy Conway, who played with Fitting in Treat Her Right and went on to fame of sorts as a founding member of Morphine, sits in on percussion, bass and guitar. Certainly this all sounds good enough on paper, but it's about the notes, not the resumes.
The notes here are some of the most impressive to come down that proverbial big road in a long while. Like Treat Her Right, The Coots isn't strictly speaking a blues band, though Fitting's harp work is exemplary and there are blues grooves a-plenty in the mix. Given that the most important music of the past century uniformly has broken molds, it's notable that the Coots are first-class cliché-busters.
The opening "Square" utilizes a strutting motif that's as catchy as it is solid. With backing vocals that remind of Delaney & Bonnie, it's an impressive door opener. The title cut, an outer-spacey ditty ("Einstein was close, but Sun Ra is closer/I built a relativity machine - it kinda looks like a toaster") that features Dana Colley on tenor sax, and Harriman's electric piano as foil to Fitting's superb key- hopping harping, is quirky and fun. By the third tune, "Requiem for a Coot," ("could ya love an old coot?") they nail it. With the first few notes of the intro evincing the Doors' "L.A. Woman", they run a jazzy groove that comes on like a sideways Dr. John (ca. the Nighttripper). But this is no name-the-influences band. Coots aren't likely to remind you too much of anyone out there, because they don't play much of anything like anyone else. On "I Like Trains," for instance, the important sounds are the tracks not the cars. Every harp player I know, myself included, started out playing that "whoo-whoo" wailing train boogie -- from gathering steam in the station to a full-bore run. Neighbors brushes the clicks of the tracks with Fitting offering strategically placed notes in place of the cliché harmonica assault, adhering instead to the Basie principal of respecting the spaces. As noted on "Harmonica Joe," the story of the Sunday night jam at Johnny D's ("He's got the horror lick from hell and the Bob Dylan wheeze/and an ammunition belt sporting 14 keys"),
there are thousands of harmonica players bold enough to come to the stage to dazzle with chops, but devoid of a story to tell. Often enough, the chops aren't really happening either. The Coots is about story, emotion, nuance and a truckload of chops. Not a Harmonica Joe in the pack.
"Water Runs Up Hill" benefits from a New Orleans-style piano, "No Questions Asked" is an instrumental break number that lets all parties take a turn at the spotlight, and "Bake A Cake" is a kitchen jam heavy on the percussion section. The closer, "Quiet Days In Cootsville" is a jazzy musical delicacy. Fitting's melodic harp is particularly soulful here. Again, the interplay between Fitting and Harriman is spellbinding.
The majority of tunes come from Fitting or Harriman, with the rest being band contributions. The production, by L. Hurley, Fitting and Harriman, is stellar and the arrangements well conceived. This one is from 2000, though Pony Express just got it to the door. If there's another in the works, it's got a hell of an act to follow. You may have to work a little to find "Message From The Seventh Dimension," 'cause the chain store shore ain't gonna have it. Check them out at www.theCoots.com or visit the label site at www.windjam.com.
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