Ventrella Records – 2014
14 tracks; 49 minutes
Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based, Jim Liban has been playing blues harp for a long time, was part of the psychedelic scene in San Francisco, once shared the stage with Hendrix and was a major part of the local Wisconsin scene for many years. Less active in recent years as a result of personal tragedies, this record marks a significant return to the scene for a fine player and writer of original songs.
Jim gave guitarist Joel Paterson (Cash Box Kings, Joel Paterson Trio) his first break and Joel here repays the debt by providing excellent support throughout. Along for the sessions was Joel’s regular rhythm section, Beau Sample on bass and Alex Hall on drums: Mark Haines replaces Alex on six tracks and Jim’s son Mark Liban takes the drum seat for one cut. Keys are added to six tracks by Scott Ligon. A labour of love, Joel produced and arranged new versions of eleven of Jim’s extensive back catalogue and co-wrote three new tunes with Jim; Alex engineered and mastered the recordings and Mark Haines and Joel mixed the album.
In these days of CDs which are labelled blues but are essentially blues-rock it is refreshing to hear a genuine Chicago BLUES album. The band leaves plenty of space, nobody overplays and the record swings like crazy. Every track here is excellent but let’s start with the three instrumentals written by Jim and Joel for the album. “Cottonweed” is a fast-paced swinger with Jim playing clusters of notes at high speed, creating a sort of wah-wah effect on his harp, then interspersing some high pitch notes in James Cotton style, hence the title, one assumes; “Cold Stuff” opens with Joel’s choppy guitar providing a background for Jim to range far and wide across his harp, culminating in a note held for a very long time, quite a technical feat; “Quick Draw” has a Latin feel to the rhythm with Scott’s organ adding depth and Joel using slide very effectively.
Some of these songs are very personal. Jim pays tribute to his late wife in the warm words of “Thank You For The Dance”, a gently swinging number with bubbling organ and fine guitar accents from Joel, Jim’s harp also having a lightness of touch that suits the song perfectly.
“No More Alcohol” tackles the issue of addiction head on in a sparse arrangement, Jim intoning the lyrics through his harp mike: “That’s it, I quit, no more alcohol”. On the title track Jim gives a positive appraisal of himself on a tune that takes a Howling Wolf riff at the start but morphs into an even more swinging middle section with Joel delivering some great slide accents.
“Stop On By” has some terrific, swinging support from the band for Jim’s clear vocals about returning to his former home and some more fine blowing, this time in the lower register. “Tell Me Everything” asks for a full and frank admission, Jim than asking how he can then trust the person concerned!
Elsewhere Jim plays a slow, late night feeling blues in “Sad, Tired And Worried” but the main style here is swinging, gently on a cut like closer “Selfish Man” where Jim confesses that he wants to keep the girl all to himself or moving along at faster pace as on “Right Hand Blues” on which Jim and Joel duel very effectively across the middle section.
There is not a weak track here, everything is beautifully recorded with absolute clarity and the playing is first class. This is a CD that every true blues fan should seek out and enjoy! Highly recommended.