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Now That You’re Gone
(Watch Dog Records)
Review Date: December 2008
by Mark E. Gallo
Harmonica master/vocalist supreme William Clarke was at the top of his form when he died November 3, 1996. I was fortunate enough to have seen him a month or two previous at a small Detroit area blues club and I can testify that he was nothing less than jaw-droppingly phenomenal. This 2002 release covers early material and points to the chops he had as a younger man just shy of the international recognition that would follow his signing to Alligator in 1990. A student of George ‘Harmonica’ Smith, with whom he is posed on the disc, Clarke recorded with the harmonica master. Peeks into that collaboration are here on “Love You, Yes I Do” and “Feel Like A King.” He shares the mic with harmonica players Mitch Kashman on the title cut and Joe Lodovici on “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’.” Other bright lights scattered throughout this fascinating collection are guitarists Hollywood Fats, Ronnie Earl and Junior Watson (who tears it up on the closing “Watson, I Presume”), bassist Bill Stuve and pianist Fred Kaplan. Unfortunately, no drummers are credited.
Clarke is explosive throughout, particularly on “Bite Again,” “Let’s Celebrate Life,” “She’s Dynamite” and “Find a New Place to Live.” The accompaniment is tight and impressive, but this is all about Clarke. That he was one of the most important diatonic and chromatic harp players of the past 20 or 30 years is unquestionable. As a singer he was as impressive for his expressive tone as his emotive approach.
Bill Clarke was a monster. These early tracks are fascinating. Clarke picked them up two days before he died, with the intention of releasing them. That they have finally seen the light of day is cause to rejoice.
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