James Harman is the thinking mans blues artist. Over the years, Harman has made records combining original and intelligent songwriting with excellent musicianship to forge a sound that pays tribute to the classic blues form which preceded him while moving forward and creating music that is uniquely his own. As always, Harman is front and center on vocals and harp and has once again surrounded himself with a magnificent group of supporting musicians including Junior Watson, Kid Ramos and Bob Margolin.
Stylistically, Harman covers all the bases mixing Chicago and Delta blues with the swinging sound that is indicative of many California musicians. Some of the highlights on the disc include "Five'll Getcha Ten" which features Bob Margolin and Robby Eason trading guitar licks like Jimmy Reed and Eddie Taylor while Harman adds a dirty toned harp to the mix and delivers the lyrics with a sense of coolness that has become one of his trademarks. The uptempo shuffle "Read My Mind" features the scorching guitar work of Kid Ramos while Harman turns in a fine vocal performance. However, the two highlights of the album are two tunes that Harman recorded with the magnificent Junior Watson backing him on guitar. "Somebody Th'owd Bad Luck On Me" is the type of uptempo song that many California bands do so well. What makes this song so special is the flame throwing guitar solo Watson throws into the middle of the song that is so powerful it kicks the song into another gear. If there is a more entertaining and daring guitarist the Junior Watson playing today, I have not heard them. The best song on the album is "Decisions" which Harman wrote in 1968 about the turmoil of those times. The song opens with Harman's harp winding its way around Watson's swampy rhythm guitar before giving way to Harman's vocals and a wonderful guitar solo from Watson. This is one of the best original blues songs that I have heard in the past ten years.
James Harman is one of the best contemporary blues artists recording today. Although he has released several fine albums on other labels over the last ten years, "Taking Chances" with the excellent musicianship and the strong songs is by far his best and will please fans of Harman's past work and those who are just now discovering the magic of James Harman.
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This review is copyright © 1999 by Barry T. Gober, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.