Martin Lang – Bad Man | Album Review

Martin Lang – Bad Man

Random Chance Records

CD: 12 Songs, 45 Minutes

Styles: Traditional Chicago Blues, Harmonica Blues

If you closed your eyes for forty-five minutes straight and listened to Martin Lang’s Bad Man all the way through, you’d swear to three things: 1) Mr. Lang is African-American; 2) he’s an unsung icon from the 1960s, and 3) the album is an undiscovered masterpiece. On two of three counts, you’d be wrong. Martin is a Caucasian maverick from the Midwest, a Chicago Hall of Fame Master Blues Artist and one of the most marrow-deep musicians you’ve never heard of. If you have, great, but this is yours truly’s first encounter with Martin Lang and his marvelous music. “Either you have it or you don’t,” my sister said about the blues. Martin has it, and then some. On twelve numbers – eight originals and four covers – he draws you into the crimson history of Chicago blues. The Windy City oozes out the pores of every single song. There are no misses here, no throwaway tunes, no songs for spits and giggles. This is genuine-sapphire blues.

According to Kim Field, author of the liner notes and Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers, Mr. Lang’s enthrallment to the blues began long ere this album came out. “Thirty years before, he had arrived in Chicago determined to make a name for himself as a blues harmonica player. ‘I bought a cassette of Little Walter’s greatest hits on Maxwell Street right after I got to town, and when I heard it, it was like there was a crystal chandelier hanging in my brain and somebody fired a twelve-gauge at it.’” He’s shared the stage with many a hallowed blues idol such as Pinetop Perkins, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Sam Lay, and Dave Myers, content in reflected glory, at least for a while. “‘My life was the life of a side man,’ Martin says. “I worked on my craft, showed up and blew, collected my cash, and went home. Everything else was somebody else’s job.’ Then came a phone call from Rick Congress of Random Chance Records. Rick called me and said, ‘I’m ready to do another album, but this time you’re going to have to write your own songs, and you’re going to have to sing them.’” The result is nothing short of a miracle.

From the chuckle-inducing opener “Reefer Head Man,” to stunning instrumentals such as “The Mix Up” and “Mood Indica,” Martin Lang never lets up on his harp or his heart. He doesn’t just play the blues or even feel the blues. He lets the music transform him so that he becomes the blues. Professional dancers say they let the music dance them. Lang lets the blues play him. Martin’s the flesh vessel for the pain, the passion, the all-around rawness of the genre. If the songs begin to sound similar after a while, that will only be because you’ve listened to it six times in a row like I did.

Joining Martin (harp and vocals on all tracks) are Grammy winner Little Frank Krakowski on guitar, Grammy winner Billy Flynn on guitar and mandolin, Illinois Slim on bass, Dean Haas on drums, Gerry Hundt on organ, and David Waldman on piano.

James Yancey Jones, also known as Tail Dragger, has this to say about Mr. Lang: “Martin, he got the weight. The tone, that’s what brings out that heavy blues feeling to it. He blow under your singin’, with that tone, and he helping you, and you don’t have to work so hard. He’s heavy, man.” Yes, indeed!

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