10 tracks | 39 minutes
Frank Raven grew up on Chicago’s Northwest Side during the 60’s and is primarily a harpist in the Junior Wells / Paul Butterfield tradition. Frank is a veteran who began his illustrious career playing six set nights in Chicago’s South Side lounges with singer Vince Young, the brother of John Lee Hooker’s bassist Geno Skaggs. His real blues schooling came from Monday jam sessions at The Checkerboard, one of South Side’s juke joints hosted by Lefty Dizz where he got to play regularly often with Buddy Guy.
Frank is assisted on this disc by producer, engineer and guitarist: Jay O’Rourke and Lee D’Budda on additional guitars. This album is a rock solid set of original grinders sure to please the blues-rock crowd. This concept album revolves around songs devoted to the unlucky side of life inspired by the passing of his longtime partner Jim Desmond in the Lucky 3 Blues Band along with Jay that left behind two albums Howl! and Blues Time.
Highlights on the album are many and there is a consistency of quality that is admirable but the vocals are more in the Joe Jackson snarky new wavy Look Sharp vein than in the gut bucket soulful blues that normally accompany such green bullet style overdriven and utterly pleasant harp licks. Frank may have learned from the masters but he retains an originality in his playing style that is unmistakably his own. One can learn new tricks from this old cat. There are punk/new wave overtones that can be heard just below the surface due to Frank’s membership in the Slammin’ Watusis, who were signed to Epic Records and released a Jay O’Rourke produced LP in 1988. They opened for Killing Joke, Butthole Surfers and Living Colour.
All ten tracks are great like the 7 minute slow burning blues magnum opus “I Wake Up Screaming” which lays down some stinging Charlie Musselwhite level mud. The one track that really sticks out as the hit would have to be “Blues Confusion”. Nothing new here written in the “I’m A Man/Bad to the Bone” format but the story is a nice ride through the mean streets of Chicago with the windows rolled down blasting the blues. The lyrics kill it: I may be down, but I’m still around. You say I’m old, I’m not cold. I been hit, but I don’t quit. Yeah I’m broke but I can still blow.” This is the old this and that familiar stop and start blues differentiated by Frank’s own, doubled with guitar, signature harp licks that go up and then down in a flow and tone all his own.
The use of programmed drums and bass does make the CD sound smoother in many ways. A capable rhythm section might have bumped it up.
Nevertheless crank this up in your car or put it on at the bar or heavy headphone rotation there is no problem that Lucky Cat cannot add some insight and give some solace for. The three blues men shine brightly with all the right moves unhampered but any potential irregularity. The blues is all about feeling and they get the feeling right.
A true harp hero with a satchel full of original ideas and a pleasant articulate vocal delivery makes this disc a worthwhile purchase to add to any serious blues connoisseur’s collection.