Likho Records – 2017
14 tracks; 68 minutes
Cliff Schmitt is the house bassist at Terra Blues in NYC and tours with Curtis Stigers; Noé Socha is also a NYC resident, having moved there from his native Italy. They formed this acoustic instrumental duo in late 2016 and will be representing the Long Island Blues Society at the 2018 IBCs in the Solo/Duo category. Cliff plays upright bass and Noé guitar and harmonica and the CD blends six originals with eight covers, all recorded direct to tape without overdubs. The name references a one-eyed monster in Russian mythology and was chosen as both men have impaired vision, Noé being legally blind and Cliff having a vision issue in one eye.
Taking the originals first Noé’s “Derby Street Blues” opens the CD is catchy style, Cliff’s bass work shining through while Noé plays the blues on guitar as well as rack harp. “I’d Say” is a pleasant tune with a mix of blues and jazz, beautifully played. Noé also wrote “Romance Among Thieves” which clearly has roots in the European traditions, the melody could even be French chanson, and “Almere” which has a gypsy jazz feel in Noé’s playing as Cliff’s bass takes the lead. Cliff contributes two tunes: “The Downtowner” is a slow-paced blues with predominantly harmonica leads; “Waltz For Katja” closes the album in reflective mood.
The covers range widely with an Italian tune “Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia” which will be known to everyone. The rest are blues tunes, with mixed results. Muddy’s “I Can’t Be Satisfied” is often played acoustically and the duo’s version has plenty of wild slide at the beginning though it is the harp that takes the lead as the tune develops into a sort of hoedown with handclaps and harp. This reviewer had never heard Freddie King’s “Hideaway” done acoustically and the duo play it pretty straight but two songs associated with Led Zeppelin fare less well: “Black Dog” has Noé’s harp replacing Robert Plant’s vocal and Cliff’s bass Jimmy Page’s guitar; “You Shook Me” follows immediately and runs to almost eight minutes, a long time for the relatively limited palette of the duo. Shorter versions of another Willie Dixon tune (“Spoonful”) and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” round out the album.
Fans of acoustic playing will definitely find something of interest here but the absence of vocals and the relatively limited range of instruments may limit the album’s broader appeal.