Steve Baker & the Live Wires – The Great Divide
Time Zone Records
Steve Baker was born in London and has spent the last four decades perfecting his harmonica skills. Based in Hamburg, Germany, for many years, Baker’s style combines traditional blues with country, folk, funk, soul and jazz. This is his second “solo” CD. He’s appeared on several CDs as a duo and hundreds as a sideman and studio musician over the years. In addition to his playing, Steve is also a great teacher. He has a textbook on playing the harp and has authored many educational texts on teaching and learing to play harp.
“I want to touch the hearts of the listeners with my music,” claims Baker. American harp great Joe Filisko says of Baker, “When Steve Baker plays, I listen! He’s my favorite harp player in Europe and one of the most powerful, emotionally moving players I’ve ever heard. He has a fantastic tone too. He plays both lyrical and calm, as well as rocking and snappy and creates a creative tension that fascinates me again and again.” Given Joe Filisko may be the most amazing harp player I’ve ever heard, that is no faint praise.
His website reports, “In 2003 he started the Harmonica Masters Workshops in Trossingen as initiator and artistic director. This popular event is now considered the # 1 blues harmonica educational event in Europe, with world-class faculty staff including Joe Filisko and David Barrett. In the summer of 2019, Steve Baker received the Pete Pedersen Lifetime Achievement Award from the US association SPAH in recognition of his many years of work in the service of the harmonica.” He truly is one of the foremost harp players and teachers in the world.
Steve Baker leads the group on harp, vocals, percussion and acoustic guitar. The Live Wires are Jan Mohr on electric guitar, Jeff Walker on bass and backing vocals, Henri Jerratsch on drums and percussion and Gina Baker on backing vocals. All the songs were written by Baker except “This Wheel’s On Fire” (Dylan-Danko).
“Don’t Turn Your Back On Love” gets the album rolling. It’s a jumping cut with a nice beat and driving groove. One can see the fantastic harp work by Baker as he gets into it here. “Judgement Day” follows, another rocking number showcasing his skills. Next is “Don’t Worry About The Money” which begins with Baker on acoustic guitar and then the electric guitar comes into the intro to solidify the sound. Another blues rocker, this one is slower tempoed as he preaches to us about money taking care of itself and the ills of focusing on money. There’s a nice elctric guitar solo here, too. “Steppin’ High” is a funky instrumental with the players trading off the leads and just having fun. Well done!
“Chains” is up next; it’s not the King-Goffen song, but a somber cut about life with chains dragging us down. The harp work is sublime and cool. “Long Distance Man” is another rocking cut with more social commentary. It’s got a bit of a country/southern rock sort of feel to it. Following that is “State of Grace,” a dark blues rock ballad that reminds me of “St. James Infirmary” in a way, the song channels a bit of that vibe and sound. Lots of big, juicy harp here. The Dylan and The Band cut is next. Baker and company give it a slower and darker sort of sound with, of course, lots of cool harp.
“Too Late” follows, a bouncy and bright cut musically but wth a dark message of child abuse in the church. Baker blows some cool harp and a driving beat. “Fools and Scoundrels” follows that. We get more social commentary as Baker has a good time telling us how the rich are milking us. “One Drop Blues” gives us a little reggae instrumental as Baker blows some very interesting harp. The album concludes with the title cut, a dramatic and dark cut about the great societal divide. Baker is very attuned to the ills in modern life and paints a dark picture of life today in this and other cuts. His harp also sets a similar tone as he and rthe band wind down their musical path together.
The songs are a mix of fun and very interesting. It’s really a very multi-genre oriented album more than straight blues, but the harp work always brings things back into a somewhat bluesy mood. The album vibe almost reminds me of an updated Dire Straits with a harp focus instead of guitar, if that makes sense. Baker is a truly fine harp player, laying bluesy licks over thoughtful and poignant original songs. It’s an interesting mix and very well done. I really enjoyed listening to this one!