Whether it represents a trend or not, there seems no shortage of young harmonica players releasing innovative albums these days. Whether incorporating funk, rock, or anything else they can get their hands on, they’re literally re-defining the blues for a new generation.
Take, for instance, the debut from Texas-based Edwin Holt. Purists may cringe – these are not your daddy’s same old blues - but those with open ears will find much to like.
Holt himself describes his music as “down and clean more than down ‘n’ dirty,” and it seems an apt description. For every nasty harmonica lick there’s a funky bass line to take things uptown. There’s very little guitar in evidence except as a rhythm instrument, and synthesizers figure prominently in the mix.
Things start out conventionally enough with the Ray Charles-influenced “I Don’t Think I’m Gonna Make It,” though Holt’s voice isn’t really compelling enough for the lengthy intro; it’s quickly into poppier territory with the title tune, a radio-friendly outing with Philly soul at its heart. “Red Clay Back Road Mama” is a grinding blues with nice harmonica work from Holt that should satisfy the blues purists. Percy Mayfield wrote “You’re In For Big Surprise,” Holt opting for a drawled delivery that comes across a bit too much like affectation, rendering this one unconvincing. “Back Line,” with it’s funky beat and crowd vocals, is musically satisfying, though Holt doesn’t come across as quite dangerous enough to be the number’s narrator. A bit more seasoning seems called for …
The next three - “Somebody’s Getting It,” “Steal Away,” and “Jack About Nothin” - reside in the realm of urban funk/pop, all done quite well, before Holt tackles Fats Domino’s “I Want To Walk You Home,” here stripped down to an uncluttered arrangement propelled by exemplary organ work from Red Young. “Down To The Bone” sounds like it comes straight from Memphis, David Brashier’s dobro providing that dusty-road feel in tandem with Holt’s nasty-edged harmonica accents.
“The Right Reverend Of The Blues” is a righteous romp powered by brassy horns – another highlight for blues fans – but things go downhill with covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and the synth-laden “One More River To Cross,” a gospel inflected number that Holt doesn’t quite have the pipes to pull off (though he gives it a nice Sam Cooke-style try).
All in all this is a likeable enough outing, but Holt needs to select material he can handle. He’s got a good voice but lacks the requisite authority for certain types of tunes – he seems a little too nice to be bad, and his delivery isn’t always thoroughly believable. He’s got some growing to do, but Holt is definitely one to watch …