The Blues Doctors – Roosters Happy Hour | Album Review

thebluesdoctorscd The Blues Doctors – Roosters Happy Hour

 Modern Blues Harmonica Label

 13 songs – 52 minutes

Mississippi-based Adam Gussow and Alan Gross – the eponymous Blues Doctors – are a two-man band with some serious history. Gussow is probably best known for his 25 year stint in Satan and Adam, as well as being an award-winning author, the founder of and the organiser of the Hill Country Harmonica festival. Gross, whilst perhaps less recognized (Roosters Happy Hour is his recording debut), has a resume that includes playing guitar with Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Kenny Kimbrough, Lightning Malcolm and Eric Deaton. And both men hold down day jobs as professors at the University of Mississippi: Gross in clinical psychology and Gussow in English and Southern Studies.

The duo named the album after their steady Friday night gig at Rooster’s Blues House in Oxford, Mississippi, where they first played together. Gross plays electric guitar.  Gussow plays harmonica, tambourine pedal and kickdrum. They both sing and together they make a big and hugely enjoyable sound.

Featuring covers of some very well-known blues classics (“Pride and Joy”, “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Rock Me”), some R’n’B oldies (such as Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”) and the jazz-funk of the Crusaders’ “Put It Where You Want It”, together with some solid originals by Gussow, it is easy to imagine how popular this duo must be down in Oxford, Miss.

Opening with the aforementioned “Put It Where You Want It”, one of the album’s several highlights, it is immediately obvious why the Blues Doctors work so well together. Gussow’s DIY percussion beats out an incessant rhythm, Gross’s imaginative guitar work provides understated rhythmic support and Gussow’s virtuoso harmonica adds the catchy melody. When it is time for Gross’s solo, Gussow provides supportive backing harp.

And the musicians make the most of the limitations imposed on them by the fact that they don’t have a full band behind them.  Sometimes over-played songs such as “Pride and Joy” and “Rock Me” take on a new life when treated almost as acoustic duets.

Seven of the 13 songs are instrumental on Roosters Happy Hour. Gussow takes the majority of the vocals but Gross also sings on “Rock Me” and “Trouble In Mind”. Perhaps because this is his recording debut, he sounds a little under-confident in his voice, which is a shame because he has a sly, knowing voice that would benefit from a little added attitude. Gussow’s voice reminds me somewhat of Kim Wilson’s – not in timbre or voice type, but in his eschewing of any attempt to sound anything other than himself, which also makes his vocals particularly affecting.

The key to the album however is Gussow’s wonderful harmonica playing, which meshes technical brilliance with deep blues feeling – constantly inventive, constantly entertaining and constantly enjoyable. For the musicians out there, Gussow helpfully even provides details of the relevant harp key (and whether or not he is using a chromatic harp) in the liner notes.

The Blues Doctors initially got together for a Friday night gig and Friday nights are special the world over. No matter what you actually do with your weekend, a Friday evening offers the limitless blank canvass of potential – anything could happen, even if you know it probably won’t. Grab yourself a copy of Roosters Happy Hour, grab a beer, and kick back in the Friday evening sunshine that this album provides 24/7.

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