10 tracks / 36:53
A lot of new blues music has to be described in terms of the other genres that have influenced its sound, for example, blues-rock, country-blues, and the old standard: rhythm and blues. There is no struggle to figure this out with Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold’s new CD, Blues at Barkin’ Jacks. This release is mostly blues at its most basic level – guitar, voice, and harmonica, and all of it is played with a remarkable brilliance. No drums, bass or keyboard were needed to achieve their goals, and the effect is really cool.
Both of these gentlemen hail from the Twin Cities, and those long cold winters in the great white north have apparently given them the opportunity to hone their chops! Doug Otto provides the guitar and vocals for this project, but he also finds plenty of work with his own bands, the Getaways and North Country Bandits, as well as sitting in with the No Accounts. Hurricane Harold Tremblay is a master harmonica man (a mentor of Curtis Blake), and co-founder of Cool Disposition. He also hosts a weekly blues show on KFAI radio in Minneapolis and leads the All-Star Revue, which features some truly fine artists from Minnesota – he is a genuine renaissance man.
The album has ten tracks that are mostly covers of wonderful vintage blues tunes, along with three originals that were written by Otto. It was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs and no more than two takes for any song. Jeremy Johnson did a wonderful job of engineering and mixing the guys’ time in the studio, and the final product has a clean sound that makes it sound like these guys are playing in your living room.
After starting off the set with a slow-driving rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Asked for Water,” the duo plays the first of the three originals, “Broken Thoughts.” Otto’s writing on these songs has more of a roots and country-blues theme, and all of them are well suited to his pleasant tenor vocal range (which makes him sound a bit like Eric Clapton). His songwriting is mature, with good imagery and phrasing, which can also be found on “Heart to Heart” and “My Time is Moving Slow.” The latter gives Tremblay a chance to sing harmonies, which is a cool effect as his voice lends a unique droning effect. This is the standout track in the album, without a doubt.
The rest of the songs are straight-up Maxwell Street blues material, as can be heard from Muddy Waters’ “Long Distance Call,” which uses subtle electric guitar chording with a heavy bass beat while Harold shows off his fine feel for the harp. Otto’s guitar tone is outstanding on Skip James’ haunting classic “Hard Time Killing Floor,” and he also delivers a surprisingly good falsetto vocal performance, which is a hard thing to accomplish for most singers.
The classics continue with Lonnie Johnson’s “She’s Making Whoopie (in Hell Tonight)” which would be a hard song to write today, but in 1930 there were no political correctness police to contend with. There are also a couple of well-done Robert Johnson tunes, “Hell Hound on My Trail” and “Kind Hearted Woman,” that are delivered in a wonderfully laconic style.
Despite the good craftsmanship these gentlemen showed on the cover tunes, the originals are exceptionally special, and are the highlight of this disc. A full-length album of Otto-penned originals would surely be a good listen, and hopefully this pair will have the chance to continue their work and head back to the studio to give us a bit more of this wonderful stuff.
There is a lot to like about this CD and Doug Otto and Hurricane Harold really delivered the goods. Their bare bones live sound is clear, and the selection of tunes that they assembled works well together. There is no mistaking this album for anything but the blues, and you should certainly give it a listen!