Electro-Fi Records 3447
12 songs – 61 minutes
Backed by guitarist Jack de Keyzer and pianist Julian Fauth, Harmonica Shah delivers an aural treat for lovers of blues harmonica with this album. Recorded in only two days in Toronto, it’s a disc with such a warm, timeless feel that it could have been captured on acetate in Chicago in the ‘50s rather than in digital studio today.
Born Thaddeus Hall and raised in Oakland, Calif., Shah’s primary influences are Junior Wells, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter and Little Sonny as well as his grandfather, Sam Dawson, a guitarist, harp player and farmer from Somerville, Texas, whose talents were captured on tape by Allen Lomax for the Library Of Congress and who also recorded for the Duke record label.
Shah moved to Detroit in the late ‘60s and worked in the auto industry and as a cab driver for a decade before buying his first harmonica. Soon, he was backing including Bobo Jenkins, Willie D. Warren and Eddie Kirkland, all local blues legends. His debut on disc as a solo artist came late, at age 54, with the release of Motor City Mojo on Blue Suit in 2000. Six more well-received CDs have followed for the master of the old-school sound.
Although the listing is too long for the header on this review, Shah shares credit on If You Live To Get Old with de Keyzer, a talented guitarist who’s recorded with Bob Walsh, Sam Myers, King Biscuit Boy and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and Fauth, whose piano skills have been on display with Finis Tasby and Fruteland Jackson. Both of them have recorded with Shah in the past. They’re joined by a rock-solid rhythm section of Alec Frasier on bass and Bucky Berger on percussion. Shah composed all 12 of the songs, which carry forward the tradition of borrowing lyrical and musical nuggets from the past, presenting them in new settings, many of which convey lessons that you only can learn as you age.
A single-note harp run atop a fast shuffle kicks off “Baby, You Have To Change,” which insists the subject woman has evil ways. She’s mean and always rolling her bloodshot eyes. De Keyzer’s mid-tune guitar solo burns before Fauth rips and runs on the keys. A walking blues tempo drives “She Used To Be Beautiful,” which describes someone who’s burned the candle at both ends, drinking, drugging and carousing her looks away before her time.
The pace slows for “Walk That Lonesome Road,” country-flavored lesson with a sparse arrangement, dealing with the dangers of lying. Next up, Shah expresses his hatred for a “Two Legged Grey Mule” who keeps hanging around his house, chasing the musician’s “pretty black mare.” The tables are turned in the syncopated “She May Be Your Woman.” This time, the lady comes to see HIM all the time and the other man is a cat she’s kicked to the curb.
Romantic troubles continue in the straight blues, “I Just Don’t Want You No More,” “Deep Down In The Dark” and the tongue-in-cheek “Congratulations, That New Love You’ve Got Is My Wife” before the instrumental “My Babe Is On This Train” gives space for the band to swing from the hip. The album concludes with a trio of lessons: “You Don’t Have To Have Liquor (To Be A Fool),” “Marry Who You Really Need” and “If You Live To Get Old, You Will Understand,” all full of rural wisdom from someone with city smarts.
If you’re looking for pyrotechnics and overblows, look elsewhere. But if you love traditional harp, pick this one up. Harmonica Shah blows the back off of it! Available through iTunes, Amazon or directly from the label (address above).