Al Lerman – Slow Burn | Album Review

allermancdAl Lerman – Slow Burn

Self-produced CD

12 songs – 49 minutes

One of the most gifted multi-instrumentalists in Canada, Al Lerman doesn’t limit himself when it comes to performing. Best known for his work as leader of the band Fathead, the two-time Juno Award-winning soul/funk/blues ensemble, this sweet, mellow album presents him in a different setting altogether.

Recorded live in two days in his home base of Toronto by Grammy-winning engineer Peter J. Moore, Lerman’s primarily gone acoustic on this one, setting down his saxophone in favor of six-string, accompanying himself on harmonica as he delivers a set of easy listening blues with messages that will have you nodding your head in agreement with his lyrical hooks.

Considered to be one of the finest harp players North Of The Border in addition to other skills and a student of legendary Chicago reed-bender Carey Bell, Al is a 40-year veteran of the music industry. He’s worked as both a sideman and producer with a who’s who of blues artists, including Little Mack Simmons, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Mel Brown and others. He delivers one interesting, down-to-earth number after another in this collection of 11 originals and one cleverly reworked cover.

He’s backed here by two different rhythm sections. Fathead bassist Omar Tunnoch teams with drummer Bucky Burger, while Alec Fraser, who produced the CD, contributes bass when Al Cross is behind the kit. Lance Anderson adds piano while Jana Reed and the bass players provide backing vocals. Dania Madera-Lerman adds hand claps. Despite the seemingly large sound, the feel remains intimate throughout.

Lerman regularly plays with a rack-mounted harmonica in live performance, but obviously laid down the tracks here after the guitar and vocals were already down. His licks on the reeds run fluidly and warmly in most of the cuts. His vocal style is relaxed, and his delivery might remind some listeners of Rick Estrin.

A brief harmonica riff kicks off “Don’t Put Your Mess On Me,” a medium-fast tempo warning to anyone attempting to push their particular brand of religion on him. Instead, he suggests: “Do unto others like you do yourself/And try to lend a hand when someone needs your help.” An easy-going shuffle is up next. “It Takes Me All Night Long” is an observation about aging and the time it takes to do things the singer used to do throughout the night.

“Back Luck Blues” delivers a cautionary tale about a group of five ne’er-do-wells who rob a bank in a tiny mining town only to run into traffic problems caused by road construction while making their getaway. The subject turns to romance for the sweet “Gonna Have To Wait,” in which the singer requests no tears and a kiss goodbye as he’s about to leave for a spell, something he’s done before. His guitar runs shine here.

The funky “Now That Your Man’s Gone” finds Lerman applying to fill the new hole in the woman’s life before he realizes there’s a problem lurking in the shadows in another relationship in “Totally Out Of Whack.” The subject of aging returns in “Younger Man Than Me,” a slow, electric blues about the realization that the singer’s older now than his father was when he split home forever at a time he was bouncing the artist on his knee. It also expresses a desire to participate in all of the aspects of childhood that he missed.

The tempo picks up for “Any Way You Want,” which cautions that anything is possible as long as you make the right decision, precedes “Tattoo Like You,” a bluesy reverie about getting needlework that looks exactly like the woman of his desire. A Jimmy Reed-style harp line kicks off “Better Off Taking Chances” will suggests taking risks is always a better decision than sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing. A new take on the Beach Boys’ hit “Kokomo” precedes the cover tune “Slow Burn,” a harmonica-driven instrumental blues, which concludes the set.

Available through Amazon, CDBaby or as a direct download from the artist’s website, this album wry and tender from beginning to end. It’s a big thumbs-up for anyone who likes a little originality. Al Lerman is a troubadour of the first order.

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