There's a certain irony to Harvey Mandel's career in that he laid down some of his best work for others, most notably John Mayall, the Stones, Canned Heat etc. But now comes a timely release that showcases the very best elements of a very underrated guitarist.
'Harvey Mandel and the Snake Crew ' finds Harvey 'The Snake' in the company of the best San Francisco has to offer including Norton Buffalo, Nick Gravenites, Elvin Bishop and Barry Godlberg in a cast of 20. And as you would expect the 14 tracks cleverly feature the very best of Harvey's playing ranging from the big toned feel of 'Baby Batter 11', to some gritty sustain when trading licks with slide king Elvin Bishop on the Norton Buffalo co-write 'Have You seen My Baby'. He adds a psychedelic introduction and big note solo to the magnificent and lyrically ironic 'Land of the Free', complete with Mic Gillette's subtle trombone, George Brook's superb sax break and Marcy levy's fine vocal performance.
Of course it's always the mark of a great player that no matter what style or direction he pursues, it always remains self evident who the player is. Thus on the tough funky Nick Gravenites led 'I Had a Life' Harvey holds back, bides his time before delivering some trademark licks. Equally important for a project that slips through a variety of styles and pauses to retrace Larry's blues roots in the company of former Canned Heat colleague Rick Kellogg on 'Everybody wants Go To Heaven' Larry is versatile enough to adapt to the different styles with a change of tone, and a completely different attack from anything else on the album.
Left to his own devices in the song writing department Harvey is content to work his way round a brace of instrumentals, 'Twizzle Zing' and 'Free Flow11', exploring the sonic possibilities in the company of violinist Carlos Reyes. Perhaps the highlight of the album is another instrumental 'Train Wreck' which sees Harvey teaming up with drummer producer Michael Borbridge and the superb harp of Norton Buffalo on a train time funky outing that works supremely well.
But ultimately he seems happiest never straying too far from his blues roots as on 'Layin Around here with the Blues', as he teams up with old buddy Elvin Bishop who add some superb slide alongside Buffalo's lyrical harp playing and Howard Wales Hammond/synth solos.
It's not a memorable outing but certainly an enjoyable one, an epithet that can be applied to the album as a whole.