Big Harp George – Uptown Cool | Album Review

Big Harp George – Uptown Cool

Blues Mountain Records

12 songs – 57 minutes

Singer, songwriter and harmonica player Big Harp George’s debut album, Chromaticism, was nominated as Best New Artist Debut Album in the 2015 Blues Blast Music Awards. His new album, Uptown Cool, continues the path blazed by Chromaticism and his sophomore effort, Wash My Horse In Champagne, albeit this time with the added horns of Michael Peloquin (sax) and Mike Rinta (trombone and tuba). Uptown Cool features sharply written songs with clever lyrics, excellent singing, stellar support from the likes of Kid Andersen and Little Charlie Baty and outstanding chromatic harmonica playing.

The album opens with the swinging “Down To The Rite Aid”, which wryly narrates the struggles of getting older as George sings “Well you may still think your old blues club’s where it’s at. That I would understand – it used to be like that. But there’s a rocking new joint, hep cats can’t stay away. I’m headed there now, to my local Rite Aid….. Bobby’s in the pill line, waiting for his fix. He used to source meds in the park, how did it come to this?? Katie’s shopping canes, or thinking maybe a knee brace. Body parts sagging all over the place.”

George’s lyrics address everything from the business of modern romance in the funky “Internet Honey” and the dangers (and delusional joys) of not being entirely truthful in “Alternative Facts” (with superb interplay between George’s voice and Andersen’s guitar on the fade-out), to questioning our societal responsibilities in the slow blues of “Cold Snap By The Bay.”  He also charts more traditional affairs of the heart in the likes of “Nobody’s Listening”, and the 60s-style rocker “Standing In The Weather.”

The music itself is primarily West Coast blues, with hints of Chicago. There is also the Latin jazz tinge of “I Wana Know”, which features a stunning guitar solo from Baty. There are two cool instrumentals, the swinging “In The First Place” and the title track, while the New Orleans rhumba of “Lord Make Me Chaste” provides the perfect closure to the album with its despairing plea “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet. As much as I look forward to the time I’ll spend with you, it’s a big wide world and there’s still lots to do. Lord, make me chaste – but not yet.”

Musicians on the album include Chris Burns on keyboards, Alexander Pettersen on drums, Joe Kyle on bass, Loralee Christensen on back up vocals (and shared lead vocals on “Just Calm Yourself”), D’Mar on percussion and Derick Hughes on backing vocals. Through it all, George’s distinctive chromatic harp lays down a series of memorable solos.  The key to the album however is not in the technical virtuosity of the musicians, undeniable though that is. This is an album of songs and everything played by the musicians is done so purely to support and enhance the song.

Uptown Cool was produced by Chris Burns and engineered by Kid Andersen at Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose. Burns and Andersen deserve kudos for capturing some sparkling performances.

Overall, Uptown Cool is a very, very good release from Big Harp George. If you enjoy the modern West-Coast-meets-Chicago blues of someone like Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, you will definitely want to pick up a copy.

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