Ruf Records – 2015
CD1: 15 tracks: 71 minutes; CD2: 16 tracks: 66 minutes
This double CD is a labour of love for producer Norman Davis who was initially inspired by hearing Big Mama Thornton play harp. Realising that female harp players were few and far between, Norman established a website (hermonicas.com) to register as many female harp players as possible. After listing 200 players on the website Norman spent several years putting the material together for this release, involving agreement from 31 different artists before Ruf Records agreed to release the project. This reviewer recognised only a few names on the list: Big Mama Thornton, Annie Raines, Octavia, Roxy Perry, Dana Dixon and Christelle Berthon. Obviously with such a large number of artists it is only possible to discuss a few highlights but there are all styles of blues here from acoustic country to raucous rock and roll.
CD1 starts in fine style with the appropriate “Harmonica Girl”, a great roadhouse blues with excellent piano from New Orleans-based Paula (Rangell) And The Pontiacs, followed immediately by the big sound of New Yorker Roxy Perry’s “Roadmaster” on which there are horns as well as Roxy’s harp. In contrast the gentle version of Robert Johnson’s “32-20 Blues” takes us back to the roots of the song with Portland, Oregon’s Lynnann Hyde’s voice and harp backed only by acoustic guitar and the instrumental “Ain’t Easy” finds San Francisco’s Beth Kohnen playing most expressively in the company of guitarist Rusty Zinn. The CD closes with an extended tune from Dorothy Jane Gosper who betrays her Australian roots with what sounds like a didgeridoo beneath her eerie harp at the start of “Sadder Than Sad”, a song that develops into a heavy blues that recalls Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and takes the 70’s rock link even further with an extended organ solo that sounds like Jon Lord in Deep Purple days!
On Disc 2 Annie Raines does an astounding live version of Magic Sam’s “Lookin’ Good” which really shows off her harp alongside the guitar skills of regular collaborator Paul Rishell. Scotland’s Dana Dixon is the only UK representative here and gives us a typical piece of ‘Brit Blues’ Rn’B in the footsteps of early Stones and Dr Feelgood on her original “Crazy Maisie”; Diana Redlin from Southern California sounds great on Frank Frost’s “Never Leave Me Home” in what sounds like a live setting with sax in support. If jazz influences interest you take a listen to either Terry Leonino’s “Meet Me Where They Play The Blues” or to Christelle Berton’s very pure take on Gershwin’s “Summertime”, a version that Larry Adler might have enjoyed. Finally it is always good to hear Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” and New York’s Big Nancy does a solid version here.
It is unfortunate that the sleeve notes do not give any details of the players involved beyond the harpists. It is not therefore possible to say whose fine guitar solo graces “One More Lie” from Teresa “T-Bird” Lynne or who is playing second harp on Big Mama’s instrumental “Down Home Shakedown”, the oldest cut here, dating from a 1965 Arhoolie recording live in Europe. On the positive side the CDs come with short bios of each artist and the source of each track is noted, the whole packaged in a classy gatefold sleeve.