Martin Lang returns for his second album for what Lang and his producer and liner notes writer Dick Shurman both call this an “ensemble album.” There is a team behind the effort, with Oscar Wilson fronting the band with his sublime vocal style on five tracks, Rusty Zinn singing on two tracks and Martin singing on the first and last tracks. Five of the cuts are instrumentals and showcase Lang on harp and Billy Flynn and Zinn as guitarists. Illinois Slim and Jimmy Upstairs share the bass duties and Dean Haas is on drums throughout. Dave Waldman also tinkles the keys on a couple of tracks.
Lang also appeared with four cuts on a 2002 album Harmonica Blues and his 2015 debut album Chicago Harp Blues Sessions were both very good but Lang has outdone himself here. His 25 years of extensive experience in Chicago blues is quite evident.
Frank Frost’s classic “Backscratcher” opens he set. Lang provides vocals and his harp is amplified through a Leslie speaker for effect. His deep vocals are resonant and interesting and the harp has moments where it sounds like an organ. Very cool! Little Walter’s “Blues With a Feeling” follows with Wilson howling out the lyrics and Lang beautifully playing a stinging harp that cuts the air like a knife. Lang’s “The Hard Ten” is next, a nifty instrumental where Lang blows some awesome harp on chromatic with the slide in and the guitar solo is, well, swell. Junior Wells’ “Come On In This House” gives us Wilson with high register stuff and Lang sparring on his greased up harp. Lang’s approach on the harp here is just so dirty and pretty. Another nice guitar solo adds to this awesome slow blues. Waldman appears for the first of two on “10:30 Blues,” another original by Lang. Lang’s harp and the guitar banter between themselves in this slow and sublime blues. The finger picking and harp notes play off each other sweetly; the pace is sloooooow and cool as the piano maintains the focus and seems to drive the cut with the backline. Jazz is next with Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”. The tempo is taken way down from the original and the boys blues it all up nicely. Zinn’s guitar is treated to the Leslie here and it’s quite interesting, too.
Billy Flynn breaks out the mandolin for the jumping and fun “Chromando,” a piece he and Lang wrote. Billy and Martin go back and forth instrumentally as Zinn stays back but fills nicely on rhythm guitar. Waldman’s piano is listed for this cut but seems to get buried in the mix. Zinn fronts things for Jimmy Rogers’ “You’re The One” and he really gets into the spirit of things. This is some sweet Chicago blues as Lang blazes on harp and the guitar fitfully plays along. “Mile High Blues” is another Lang instrumental with haunting harp featured here. At times it feels as if it’s a wolf musically howling in the mountains instead of a harp– well done. Slow and very neatly done. Flynn the next cut, “Blues Today” and picks out some mean stuff as Wilson shouts out the vocals and Lang lays in some harp behind him. Harp and guitar solos are well done once again on this slow blues. Little Walter’s “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” again features Wilson on vocals and the harp and guitar are again spot on. Roger’s is again the choice with “Walking By Myself” with Wilson also taking the stage for vocals. He and Lang are back and forth on vocals and harp and the guitar fills sweetly. “Hip Twist,” another original, finishes out the album. Lang sings here again, perhaps lacking some confidence, but his deep and resonant approach is cool. The harp is again featured front and center and the guitar picks out a nice groove to pace things.
The album is truly an ensemble piece as previously claimed. Mostly darker and down tempo-ed, it strikes me as if it’s a slow night in an old, smoke filled club in the 1950’s on Chicago’s South side with the boys laying out their favorites and jamming. The songs are cool and the instrumentals showcase the originality of the players. Each listen brings out new nuances for me and I truly enjoyed this more and more with each spin. I do wish Martin would sing a little more as he’s got a nice baritone/bass voice but with Oscar Wilson as your front man you really can’t get much better than that. Lang’s original songs stay true to the Chicago blues tradition and yet still sound new and fresh. He masterfully plays in multiple positions on different harps. Flynn and Zinn offer spectacular guitar support. This is a really nice album and is worth picking up for your collection– highly recommended!