Harvey Brindell – Pennies on the Dollar
Self-Release – 2020
10 tracks; 36:48
Harvey Brindell’s Pennies on the Dollar, his solo debut, is straight-forward blues that holds your attention in the same way you know a good band the second you walk into a club. Honest blues grabs you immediately, and Brindell’s crafted an album of sincere blues.
Brindell, based in Portland after some time in Nebraska, has recorded with the Honeyboy Turner Band, in addition to playing countless live shows. His voice has a bemused bluesy quality, a la Elvin Bishop, an interesting wrinkle given Brindell’s career as a mental health therapist. Songs often have the quality of someone not laughing at the human condition, but also unsurprised by it. Brindell also plays guitar, harmonica, and organ, on the album, along with plenty of guest stars.
The title track features Mitch Kashmar on harmonica, everyone playing over a groove reminiscent of Muddy Water’s “Mannish Boy,” but sped up. Kashmar is especially incendiary on the rideout, trading licks with himself, never concerned with the quantity of notes, but instead focused upon his rich tones and soulful licks. No one is pushing any boundaries, because that’s not the point. Everyone locks into each other, propelling the song and not trying to cut heads, unlocking an energy between manic and lazy. It’s talented musicians listening to and playing off of each other within the respectful confines of the song.
Brindell plays with different styles. “The Old Zoo Bar” has a 50s, Stray Cats kind of feel, with a gorgeously thick solo courtesy of Kashmar. “Blues for Omaha” is an immaculately clean guitar tone that sounds almost acoustic. It’s the album’s most laid-back track, a nice opportunity to reset just about halfway through the album. In a different time, it’s the song that would have led to flipping the album over to side two. Which brings us to “Mississippi Medicaid,” featuring the always amazing guitar work of Johnny Burgin, who uses some quick-picking to make his solos sounds like hummingbirds somehow plugged into guitar amps. And “That’s The Blues” has a high-energy Brindell vocal, where he even sounds hoarse from shouting. Guitar cuts through wave upon wave of organ (also provided by Brindell), the whole tune sounding like the very best of 1960s garage rock, making it one of the best tracks on a good album.
There are lots of great regional artists like Brindell who, even pre-pandemic, we don’t get to see for geographic reasons. Pennies on the Dollar is an introduction to a talented songwriter and performer. He’s learned a lot playing out, but he’s also no slouch when it’s time to lay things down on tape.