Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers – Love Whip Blues
10 tracks; 44 minutes.
This is the debut CD from Erin and her band who formed in 2010 and competed in the IBCs in 2011. The Boston-based band comprises Erin Harpe on vocals and guitar, Jim Countryman on bass, Bob Nisi on drums and background vocals and (despite Erin’s surname) Richard Rosenblatt on harmonica. Richard was, of course, the MD of Tone-Cool Records and is now President of Vizztone. Erin is the daughter of a bluesman, Neil Harpe from Maryland and began her career working in an acoustic setting with her Dad.
This album was initially recorded in Boston and then post-produced, mixed and mastered by ace studio man Dave Gross in New Jersey. Dave added guitar, piano, bass, mandolin, Wurlitzer and percussion as required and brought in Bob Margolin and Sonny Jim Clifford to play slide on a total of three tracks. The outcome is an impressive debut which mixes five originals with some pre-war blues in a seamless manner.
The opening track “Delta Swing” is an upbeat country blues with some nice acoustic guitar and harp up front and some shimmering electric guitar (presumably Dave Gross) in the background. Title track “Love Whip” has a suggestive element in the lyrics as Erin tells us that “When I crack that whip you never hurt so good”. Richard’s harp again features and the jungle drums add a different feel to this one.
The band covers a number of little known pre-war artists. Willie Brown played with Son House and Charlie Patton but disappeared from the music scene in the 1940’s, passing away before the blues revival in the 60’s. Willie must be an influence as the band covers two of his songs and another that he recorded. One of the rarest records in history is Willie’s “The M&O Blues/Future Blues” (only three copies are known to exist) and the band covers both of those songs on this album.
“Future Blues” was the title track of an album by Canned Heat and the band does a solid version of the tune here, the Delta feel being accentuated by Sonny Jim’s slide. “The M&O Blues” (Lucille Bogan) is a slow country blues that opens with Erin’s acoustic guitar and Bob Margolin on slide alongside the harp. Willie also wrote “Mississippi Blues” and the band adapts it under the title “Charles River Delta Blues”. The lyrics of this one refer to ‘white lightning and gambling’ which don’t sound much like Boston! Richard blows some nice harp over some strong riffing from Erin.
Another obscure pre-war artist is Luke Jordan whose 1927 recording of “Pick Poor Robin Clean” came from one of only three recording sessions. Erin’s version is authentic country blues with acoustic guitar and harp and gentle accompaniment, Bob using brushes and Jim taking a short solo. In a similar vein “One Way Man” is adapted from another pre-war artist, this one being a version of Virginian country bluesman William Moore’s “One Way Gal”.
The remaining three tracks vary the styles, but in different ways. The lyrically rather strange “Virtual Booty Machine” sets a fast pace with some fine acoustic picking and Richard’s harp again to the fore. “Good Luck Baby” is quite dissimilar to the rest of the album, far more of a pop/soul approach as Erin sings of a departed lover: “Good luck baby, I hope it don’t go to hell”. Richard’s restrained and emotional harp is beautifully poised against the soulful guitar settings and this one is a winner, perhaps indicating a direction that the band might follow on a future release.
John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” is frequently covered, especially by female vocalists, but the band take the tune for an outing to the country on the closing track of the album. The sparse arrangement of the first verse allows us to hear the quality of Erin’s vocals before the band joins in full tilt with some gentle slide embellishments from Sonny Jim and more fine harp from Richard.
This is an enjoyable debut CD from a band that clearly honours the past of the music yet can also create its own material to go alongside the covers. Anyone who enjoys country blues and danceable tunes should like this one a lot.