Grant Dermody – My Dony
Thunder River – 2019
13 tracks; 52 minutes
Harmonica player Grant Dermody is from Seattle but traveled to Louisiana to record this album with producer and guitarist Dirk Powell, with whom Grant worked on his previous album, 2015’s Sun Might Shine On Me. That one was acoustic but this time it’s a full band affair, with Grant handling the vocals and harp and Dirk on guitar, keys and B/V’s, as well as engineering the sessions. Rhiannon Giddens’ rhythm section is in support, bassist Jason Sypher and drummer Jamie Dick, and there are guest appearances by Corey Ledet on accordion and washboard. There are eight originals, three each from Grant and Dirk and two credited to the whole band, two traditional tunes and three covers.
The album opens with Dirk’s title song, his gruff vocals suiting the traditional, old-school feel of the song which is clearly about a woman, so I assume that the word is some form of local term. There is then a run of the three covers: Clifton Chenier’s “One Step At A Time” mixes Jimmy Reed-style harp with Corey’s wheezy accordion; “It Hurts To Be In Love” (Julius Dixon/Rudy Toombs) has been recorded many times since Annie Laurie’s 1957 original, including versions by artists as diverse as Frankie Lymon, Marcia Ball and John Mayall! Grant’s version shuffles along with his vocals dubbed over his harp work and Dirk pulling double duty on guitar and organ. Sonny Boy 1’s “Springtime Blues” is classic harmonica blues on a tune that recalls “It Hurts Me Too”.
Grant’s ‘Real Time Man’ sounds like “Help Me” played by a Cajun band: indeed, the Louisiana feel is particularly evident on the six tracks to which Corey contributes. “Too Late To Change Your Mind” is a stripped back affair with Dirk handling the vocals and the rhythm section almost absent. “Corner Strut” is credited to the whole band and, with the assistance of Corey on both accordion and washboard, it’s a lively little tune before Dirk’s ballad “I Can’t Turn Back Time”, a song in which he looks back wistfully at how he was saved from a dissolute life by the love of a good woman, supported by Kelli Jones’ harmony vocal. There are also superb harmonies from Rhiannon Giddens, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah on the traditional ‘Great Change’ which develops into a rousing piece of gospel music with Dirk’s mandolin picking featured. Another traditional zydeco tune “Morning Train” marks Corey’s final contribution before the album closes with three originals: a funereal pace belies the title of Grant’s “Come On Sunshine” which again finds his vocal dubbed over his harp; “35-59” is the second whole band composition, plus Lee Tedrow, the title explaining the age difference in ages between the two protagonists: “She’s 35, I’m 59, you know I still got lots of time. Oh baby, I can love you strong and slow, come on over baby, one more time before I go”.
Closing track “Hometown Blues” has a military marching drum behind Grant’s lyrics about how he feel a stranger in his own town.
Grant is a harp player with a strong reputation among harmonica experts and there is plenty for harmonica fans to enjoy on this album.