9 songs – 30 minutes
74-year-old Sam Frazier Jr. learned harmonica from the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson and Slim Harpo, both of whom used to attend his mother’s backyard barbecues in Edgewater, Alabama, near Birmingham. In a musical career that has lasted more than 50 years, he has played blues, soul and even country (he was Country Boy Eddie’s harmonica player for 13 years on a country music show on Birmingham television in the 1970s and 1980s). His latest release is a self-titled modern take on old time acoustic country blues.
Frazier himself handles the lead vocals and harmonica, with backing from husband and wife team Sam Gunderson and Sara Green on acoustic guitars and backing vocals. Jacob Thompson also adds sparse cymbals to “Honest I Do”.
This is a relatively short album, with the nine tracks just hitting the half hour mark and one of those tracks is a 24-second spoken word piece by Frazier entitled “Intro”. Of the remaining eight, there are two tracks attributed to Frazier, the William Harris-esque “Inherit The Blues” and “Little Milton Jam” (which features a chorus that is identical to Milton’s own “The Blues Is Alright”) together with two Sonny Boy Williamson classics (“Don’t Start Me To Talkin’” and “Nine Below Zero”). Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do” and Buster Brown’s 1960 hit, “Fannie Mae” are both given relatively faithful readings, albeit with acoustic backing.
Frazier’s country leanings are reflected in the covers of Hank Williams Sr’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Gillian Welch’s “Miner’s Refrain”.
Gunderson and Green are both fine guitarists and singers, their backing vocals adding real impetus to tracks like “Fannie Mae” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” while there is an authentically raw feeling to their playing, as if they were appearing at one of Frazier’s mother’s backyard barbecues. Both Frazier’s vocals and his harp playing are in fine fettle, his voice sounding weathered and beaten while his harp, which takes all the solos on the album, retains a lightness and melodic warmth.
Sam Frazier Jr. is one of a rapidly-vanishing generation who learned directly from the first or second generation blues giants. All his years of experience are reflected in the deep blues he sings and plays. As such, any recording by Frazier is worth hearing. The issue with this album as a whole, however, is the choice of so many blues standards given that, while they might work very well in a live setting, they are so over-played that no new recording will ever cast them in a new light.
The preponderance of overly-familiar cover versions probably means that this is the type of album that makes a fine reminder of a great gig but it probably won’t be the first CD you reach for otherwise. Which is a shame, since there is much to enjoy on Sam Frazier Jr. & the SBG’s.