Paul Orta and Steve Coleridge – The Slim Harpo Project
CD: 15 Songs, 49 Minutes
Styles: Tribute Album, Blues Covers, Harmonica Blues
Tribute albums of any sort are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they pay homage to iconic artists that shaped genres and birthed new eras of music. Such homage is not only commendable, but it paves the way for new generations to hear the old masters. On the other hand, tribute albums will always stand in the shadow of the legendary releases of said masters. If performed with considerable skill and talent, this shadow need not be overlarge. What of Paul Orta and Steve Coleridge’s new album, The Slim Harpo Project? It celebrates the work of James Isaac Moore (1924-1970), a man who crowned the harmonica as the top non-guitar blues instrument. Indeed, he took his stage name from the “harp,” not from a Marx Brother. He’s the original “[I’m a] King Bee,” featured on this CD. He also coined “Moody Blues,” “Mailbox Blues,” “What’s Going On” and “Dynamite.” Orta and Coleridge go all out on instrumentation, as they should because they’re primarily instrumentalists. However, some may wish they would have collaborated with a more well-known singer. That would have made this serviceable salute to Slim Harpo into an outstanding one, propelling it into the stratosphere.
Paul Orta, born in Port Arthur, Texas, was first influenced by Louis Armstrong at the age of seven. After nine years of playing the coronet in the school band, he quit because the band never played blues or jazz. Within half a year, he picked up the harmonica and in three months, he was in his first professional band (The Bayou Boogie Band) at sixteen. They played in Golden Triangle (southeast Texas) and Louisiana for three years.
In 1979, Paul moved to Austin, Texas and won the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1980. Later he formed The Backdoor Men. Afterwards he entered the Antones: “the University of the Blues,” playing with such greats as Jimmy Rogers, Snooky Pryor, Eddie Taylor, Sunnyland Slim, Hubert Sumlin, Luther Tucker, Ted Harvey, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Pinetop Perkins, Wayne Bennett, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Henry Grey and Robert Lockwood Jr. Paul Orta has also toured and recorded with Texas Guitar Tornado U.P. Wilson.
Joining Paul (vocals and harmonica) are German Ramallo on guitars; Steve Coleridge on bass, lead and rhythm guitars, and drums; Joe Colomera also on drums; Jeanne Wilson on sax; Leroy Jefferson, Aurora Hernandez, Fiti and Pepe Moreno on percussion; Pepe Moreno on piano and rhythm guitar; and Leroy Jefferson on bass for tracks six and eight. The CD itself was recorded at PM Studios in Murcia, Spain.
Paul Orta passed from this world due to cancer in May of 2019 and never got to see this album released. When Orta was younger, he received sage advice from his idol Sonny Terry, according to an interview on blues.gr from Greece. “Your sound is just like me,” Terry said, “but you need to sound like yourself.”
On The Slim Harpo Project, Orta, Coleridge and company couldn’t sound more like themselves. Unfortunately, they can’t top the OG, but their homage is heartfelt and stands on it’s own.