Durham County Poets – Hand Me Down Blues
Fam Group California
CD: 13 Songs, 50 Minutes
Styles: Horn Blues, Ensemble Blues, Blues Covers
At their core, songs are poems set to music. As Blues Blast reviewer Rex Bartholomew states, “[It] seems like a basic skill, but a lot of bands seem to forget about this.” Not the Durham County Poets. This band from Quebec brings poetry back to the blues, performing each of the thirteen songs on Hand Me Down Blues as if they’d make Walt Whitman proud. Leading man Kevin Harvey, along with five seasoned compatriots, invites blues lovers all over the world to savor the rhythms and rhymes of their fourth album. With clear vocals, robust instrumentation, and unique songwriting, they even make covers such as “Can’t Be Satisfied” and “With a Little Help From My Friends” sound invigoratingly new. Even if the words “poetry slam” give you a headache, fear not. The Poets’ art and their craft blend as smoothly as a creamy mocha latte.
In the CD liner notes, Kevin Harvey relates his first encounter (at nineteen years old) with McKinley Morganfield himself: “I planted my elbows firmly on the stage as if to stake my claim. I looked Muddy square in the eye, then I placed my hand on his shoe. He looked at me and winked as if to say, ‘Welcome to the blues, son!’” Two months later, Harvey would receive a life-altering spinal cord injury requiring him to use a wheelchair. The Durham County Poets came along, and with their invaluable support and musicianship, Kevin would continue to play and proclaim his love for such music. “This album pays homage to the blues and to some of our favorite artists like Muddy Waters. They handed down the blues to us, and we want to continue in their tradition by putting our own stamp on it; handing down the blues to another generation.”
The Durham County Poets are Mr. Harvey on vocals; Neil Elsmore on acoustic and electric guitars as well as background vocals; David Whyte on background vox; Carl Rufh on backing vocals, electric and upright bass and trombone, and Rob Couture on drums and backing vox. Special guests include vocalist Dawn Tyler Watson, guitarist and background vocalist Larry Cassini, Jody Golick and Mark Leclerc on tenor sax, John Kerkhoven on harmonica, and Bob Stagg on keyboard.
The title track is classic horn blues from head to toe, starting things off with some New Orleans spice. “When I was three, my mama told me, ‘If you want to have some fun, but on a Count Basie record and take off your shoes.’ She was dancing in the kitchen like she had nothing to lose, and that’s how Mama handed me them blues.” Next is a warning about a shady lady. When “The Moon Won’t Go Down,” beware. Its atmospheric combination of blues and jazz is perfect for a clear spring night. Grab a partner and take him or her for a spin – just make sure they don’t look you over “predator-style.” Later on, Dawn Tyler Watson and Kevin Harvey issue a heartfelt plea in perfect harmony: “Help Me to Change.” Number ten, however, is the best (and most hilarious) track on the album. “If the Lid Don’t Fit,” get a new toilet seat – er, “don’t put it on the pot!” You might miss the lyrics if you’re boogie-ing too hard, so keep your ears open.
The Durham County Poets bring lyrical beauty back to the genre with Hand Me Down Blues!