Joe Filisko & Eric Noden – Destination Unknown
Self-Release – 2018
13 tracks; 47 minutes
Joe Filisko and Eric Noden make a great contemporary acoustic harp/guitar duo, playing in the style of old-time greats like Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee or Mississippi John Hurt. This is their fifth album together and it is entirely original music with Eric writing six songs, Joe two and the pair collaborating on four; the final track was written by Eric’s grandfather, the late Harry J Noden. Everything you hear was recorded live in one session in Spring 2018, the music being mainly country blues with a few detours into country and old-time music.
“Anxious Blues” sets out the duo’s stall with lyrics that reflect the pace of modern life and the need to slow down a little, Joe getting a vast range of sounds from his harp. “Shut It Down” is an uptempo piece with an element of ragtime in the rhythm; some well-judged kazoo and Joe’s harp conjuring up a fiddle sound take us back to 1920’s jug bands. “Louisiana Song” celebrates the distinctiveness of Louisiana as seen by Joe whose breathier, almost spoken vocals feature on this one. Joe manages to make his harp sound almost like a harmonium or accordion on “Path You Choose” which is a blues boogie that a band like Canned Heat would have done well whereas “Beginning Of The End” is a country blues with Eric’s lead vocal echoed by Joe’s harmony responses, the refrain “don’t die until you’re dead” not perhaps being the most cheerful line on the disc! The dirge-like “Black Clouds” sounds suitably minimal with Eric’s simple slide work (perhaps influenced by Muddy) underpinning Joe’s Sonny Boy 1 style harp.
The title track is a homage to Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee with lyrics that reflect the freewheeling life of the itinerant musicians of yesteryear (and maybe today!). “As We Are Now” is a mournful slow song about Joe’s grandfather and mother who were forced to leave their old world home to find a new life in the States, Joe’s low register harp sounding like an accordion in the section of the song set in the old world but changing to more of a blues style for the New World part of the song – clever stuff indeed! Less serious is “My Kitchen” which gently pokes fun at people trying to help out in an area in which they have no expertise, played in Mississippi John Hurt style. “Four Letter ‘F’ Word” examines how people react to the word ‘free’ and is in the Sonny Boy 1 style, influenced by “Mellow Chick Swing” as well as by Big Bill Broonzy’s rhythmic guitar attack. “My Jesus” adapts a prayer from the Old Testament (Micah 6:8) and “Can’t Take The Edge” is a driving blues in the style of Mississippi Fred McDowell, Joe attempting some difficult playing in the style of Johnny Woods who played with Fred back in the day. The album closes with “Time Is For You”, a charming song written by Eric’s grandfather which is in fact a waltz, a first for the duo.
Anyone who appreciates acoustic blues will enjoy this album. The album notes that are available to download from the duo’s website give a huge amount of information that will help fellow musicians to appreciate the techniques being used by Joe and Eric; they are also well worth reading as you enjoy listening to the album.