Kurt Crandall – Starts On The Stops
Yester Year Records – 2022
10 tracks; 43 minutes
Kurt Crandall is based in Virginia but has moved around a lot, playing and studying the blues in Kansas City, Washington, DC, Macon, Chicago and Seattle. Over the course of his career he has proved to be a fine harp player, singer and song writer and all of those attributes are present on his fourth album Starts On The Stops. The CD is divided into two sets with different personnel. Kurt is on harp and vocals throughout and the ‘First Set’ finds him in a small ensemble of Karl Angerer on guitar, Bill Heid on piano, Rusty Farmer on upright bass and Aaron Binder on drums; Jaisson Taylor and Lawrence Otis add backing vocals to the vocal tracks. The ‘Second Set’ is a slightly bigger band: Karl Angerer remains on guitar but shares the role with Reid Doughten, Clark Stern is on piano, John Sheppard electric bass and Johnny Hott drums; Carl Bender adds sax to one track. Kurt wrote eight tunes and there are two covers.
The First Set opens with the instrumental “Skedaddle”. Jungle drums lead into a harp-led, jazzy swinger, with guitar and piano also featured. “Early Bird Special” also mixes jazz and blues in a relaxed shuffle with amusing lyrics about the attractions of a cheap menu: “Grandad forgets what he can’t recall, in fact he can’t remember anything at all! Forgot Grandma’s birthday, anniversary too, but somehow remembers when the day is through – Early Bird Special”. “Razz My Berries” swings like crazy as Kurt uses the lyrics playfully: “Razz my berries, girl I swear it’s true, pray every day I’ll razz your berries too”! Great piano on this one! “Devil Got A Hold On You” is a slower tune with deep-toned harp and a gospel feel, especially in the hummed chorus and lyrical references to Jacob’s Ladder and the Devil; Karl steps out to play some lovely, relaxed guitar in the middle section. The First Set concludes with a New Orleans-flavoured instrumental “Beignets And Coffee” that gives everyone solo space over some excellent second line drumming.
The Second Set starts with Chicago style harp on “Home At Last”, a Rudy Toombs tune, Reid’s tougher guitar style working well against the harp. Carl Bender’s sax adds a big band R&B sound to “Goes Without Saying”, a song that could easily have been found in the repertoires of West Coast guys like T-Bone Walker and Karl’s lead guitar work is very much in that vein on this standout cut. Kurt’s sprightly harp takes the lead on a more stripped-back production in which Kurt tells us all about his life with a “Bull Headed Woman”; she tells him “when to start, tells me when we’re through”. Sonny Boy I (John Lee) Williamson, classic “Bluebird Blues” is the second cover, taken at a leisurely pace with Clark Stern’s piano featuring strongly alongside Kurt’s higher register harp work. A third instrumental, “Sidecramp”, is a feature for Kurt who tears it up on this uptempo romp to close the album.
This is a fine album and will appeal in particular to lovers of harmonica blues. Combine Kurt’s expertise on the harp with solid supporting musicians and good material and you have a winner. Recommended!