Erin Harpe – Meet Me In The Middle | Album Review

Erin Harpe – Meet Me In The Middle

Vizztone Label Group – 2020

10 tracks; 37 minutes

Erin Harpe is a second generation, finger-picking guitarist from New England who has established a strong reputation with her band The Delta Swingers but here, on her fourth outing on Vizztone, she has stripped things right back. The sessions were recorded at home in June 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, so it is just Erin on vocals, acoustic guitar, dobro, kazoo and foot percussion; her husband, Jim Countryman, engineered the sessions, plays ukulele bass and adds backing vocals. The result is a thoroughly entertaining disc as Erin explores six old-time and traditional songs set alongside four of her own compositions.

The disc opens with three of Erin’s songs. “All Night Long”, a classic song about love (and lust!), makes an excellent opener with Erin showing her skills with the slide and providing a suitably sassy vocal. Erin then bemoans her fate as a “Hard Luck Woman” who seems to be beset by problems on this rolling country blues before the title track “Meet Me In The Middle”, the slide guitar opening of which reminded this reviewer of “No Expectations” by the Rolling Stones. Erin’s lyrics explore how folk with different tastes can get together by compromising, a good principle by which to conduct oneself.

Sippie Wallace’s “Women Be Wise” has been covered many times but Erin does a very good job as Jim’s bass lines underpin the tune nicely and Erin gets her kazoo out for the first time. Less frequently heard is Lucille Bogan’s 1934 song “I Hate That Train Called The M&O”, a slow blues which describes how the girl feels as the train takes her man away from her. After that Erin picks up the pace with “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” which is often credited to Muddy, sometimes to Hambone Willie Newbern, but here classed, probably correctly, as ‘Traditional’. Whatever the correct source it’s an all time classic and Erin shows us her chops on slide guitar as well as singing the familiar lyrics convincingly.

The very obscure country blues singer Geeshie Wiley is the source for “Pick Poor Robin Clean”, the song dating back to 1931 when she recorded it with Elvie Thomas. With Erin’s kazoo and Jim’s bass both getting solo features this is a fun arrangement whilst the traditional gospel tune, “When I Lay My Burden Down” takes us to church with the familiar “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” refrain. In complete contrast a beautifully finger-picked take on Memphis Minnie’s “What’s The Matter With The Mill” raises the sauciness levels again and makes you realize how well Erin sings these sorts of songs.

We close with Erin’s “One Fine Day” which in a way blends everything we have heard until now. The song has a classic structure with gospel accents although the lyrics are entirely secular as Erin looks forward to being reunited with her love (or is it the rest of the Delta Swingers she is missing?). A gentle, affectionate note on which to end a very enjoyable album.

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