Harmonica Red – aka George Heard – certainly has chops to spare. But while technical proficiency can be interesting, it rarely makes for engaging listening. To connect with audiences, music must be about more than just the notes themselves, regardless of how many are squeezed in.
Heard hails – no surprise here – from Louisiana, and tours relentlessly through the state. He explains that this project came together based on fan requests for favorites from his live shows. At that level, the disc succeeds very well indeed. The New Heard is a party band, and Heard’s chosen material leans heavily to the rowdy and raucous.
Things kick off with the title tune, a rollicking romp that finds Heard providing some autobiographical insight over a hard-pounding jungle beat. “Coin’ Home Baby” is a jazzy number inspired by a jam with Lee Oskar, with Heard displaying a fine melodic sense through an impressively imaginative solo. But “We’re Goin’ To A Zydeco Party” would best be left as a live number; despite more nice soloing, the repetitious chorus gets stale fast, though it probably does a fine job of filling dance floors.
Elsewhere there’s a somewhat plodding “Room With A View Of The Blues,” Heard’s voice lacking the gravity to be thoroughly convincing. Contrast that with “I Yi Yi,” an irresistibly catchy number that plays to the band’s strengths - they’re a little heavy-handed on straight blues numbers, but handle easy-going, upbeat tunes with aplomb, and Heard’s vocals work better when conveying pleasure rather than pain. There’s an interesting take on Herbie Hancock’s modern classic, “Watermelon Man,” and intriguing harmonica work on an instrumental stroll through Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy Mercy Mercy”
Heard – or Red, at least while we’re addressing his harmonica skills – is clearly a master on the lickin’ stick, equally adept at furious flurries or exquisitely sustained single notes. The band occasionally settles for workmanlike but rise when required to the demands of trickier tunes.
Not quite polished enough to qualify as an essential purchase, this one nonetheless has its moments. Heard’s harmonica work is worth a listen, but ultimately this is one for the band’s fans.