Harpdog Brown – For Love & Money
Dog House Records
If you take one part Louis Prima, one part Louis Armstrong, one part Louis Jordan and one part Sonny Boy Williamson you get the vocal sound and overall feel of Harpdog Brown. How can that be bad?
The British Columbian harp playing Brown has released a gem of a new CD featuring jump-blues that swing from Chicago down to New Orleans. The CD is produced by fellow Canadian Steve Dawson; Steve’s talents at both production and guitar are awesome. I’ve only seen him live once and was further hooked on his stuff that his CDs introduced me to. Here with Harpdog he’s produced a winner.
Brown ‘s gravelly and greasy vocals and harp ooze authenticity. The sound is just oh-so-cool. Coupled with that is an awesome backing band led by David Webb on piano and Hammond B3 organ. That jump-blues sound revolves around his keyboard work and Brown’s vocals. William Joseph Abbott is on clarinet and alto sax, Skye Lambourne is on trombone and Jerry Cook is on baritone and tenor sax. The horn section is also an essential part of the swingingly cool sound. Jeremy Holmes on bass and Robert Vail Grant on drums are a fine back line. And, of course, Steve Dawson does a superb job on all the guitar tracks.
“No Eyes For Me” is an original and gets things off to a rousing start with horns and organ. Brown shouts out the lead vocals with emotion, a great hook to get the listener interested. The horns respond to Harpdog’s call and then the B3 gives us an sweet little solo. We also get an alto sax solo a little later for fun. “Blue Light Boogie” takes the tempo down a notch and some neat piano and harp work accompany the vocals nicely. Brown really shows us his stuff on the Mississippi saxophone here in this old school boogie by Jessie Mae Robinson. “The Comeback” is a Memphis Slim song with a nice midtempo groove. The B3 and band support Harpdog well as he gives his woman pleas to return. The alto sax is also again featured and then the tenor gives us a nice taste, too. “Reefer Lovin’ Woman” is another original and it’s quite cool. Webb tinkles the piano and the trombone then comes in with cup in hand to intro this striding cut. I love this song, it’s just fun and cool. The clarinet gets it’s first feature with the old licorice stick helping set the mood. The trombone then solos and Brown also gives us a sweet harp solo after another vocal verse & chorus. “A New Day Is Dawning” is a song by Wayne Berezan, “Dog’s old guitar player. This original is lamentful and slow, with some nicely done clarinet work that sets a somber mood with s a beautiful solo. Brown moans out the vocals and sings with great emotion and band backs him with some good sounds.
“Vicious Vodka” is an old Amos Milburn song. Brown does a super job with this one, a song that would be appropriate in any great old honky tonk joint. The piano sets a bit of the tone here as Brown jumps and jives with the vocals. There is also a nice tenor solo, too, and then Brown closes with a well done harp solo. “I’ll Make It Up To You” was written by fellow BC musician Brandon Isaak. Brown’s version is not built on guitar and features piano and trombone and then some of his harp work. He turns it into a Louis Armstrong sort of tune where Isaak’s version is different and has even more amped up harp. Both takes on the song are quite cool. “One Step Forward” is another Berezan original. Done in the Louis Jordan style, Brown calls and the band responds to the lines of the verses. His harp stings here, and they play the same call and response with the band to his harp, too. The band all chimes in for an instrumental chorus. As things close, the band repeatedly chimes in singing the title to take us out with the piano. Sweetly done. Brown wrote “Stiff,” a song he growls out the vocals about being broken, broke but somehow maintaining. The clarinet gets the first solo here, then the trombone gets his turn and it’s once again just well done.
Keyboardist Webb wrote the title track, a song about playing on the road to make a live. Nice piano work here along with Brown’s ever-effective vocal work. He squeezes out some succulent harp for us, too. The band keeps a nice measured pace and all contribute to the sound. “Buzzard Love” is an old Wynonie Harris cut. Brown gives us the lyrics with guts and Webb gives us some sweet B3 to lead into the big harp solo and then takes us home with his harp, too. “Thinkin’ and Drinkin'” is another song popularized by Amos Milburn. Piano and alto sax are out front in this one, and then we get some more great harp work to boot. Things close with the original “Sasha’s Lullaby.” Written by Harpdog’s trombone player, it’s a sweet little lullaby with piano tinkling and trombone in support of Brown’s vocals. The band plays in back with restraint to help set the lullaby tone. It’s sweet and cool and just a nice close to a wonderful set of tunes. The tenor solo and horn work adds nice effect and then the piano delivers us to Brown’s final lyrics to close things out.
I never mentioned anything on Dawson’s guitar work. He’s not there to take the limelight, and fills with the rest of the band to make a great sound that emulates the bands of the 1940’s and 1950’s who created swing and had North America and the world dancing. This album it such a great throwback to that era.
We’ve got 8 great originals here along with 5 well-done covers. Harpdog Brown is a master at these jump blues and has surrounded himself with a bunch of old and young musicians who do a truly spectacular job. I got this and played it immediately and listened to it repeatedly over the weekend. I’ve been listening to a lot of new music this month and this one’s among the best. It will garner some attention at awards time for sure- this Canadian artist, his band and producer have turned out a wonderful album that I most highly recommend. If you want to swing and have a good time, this one’s for you!