The Blues Doctors – Same Old Blues Again
11 songs, 43 minutes
When I get ready to review a bunch of CDs, I generally take a handful of them out of their jackets, and keep them handy in my car. I have a 1-hour commute each way to my office, so that gives me plenty of alone time with each CD, and over a very decent sound system. I often don’t even know who I’m listening to until after I’ve played a CD all the way through. Such was the case with Same Old Blues Again, by the Blues Doctors.
From the very first track, an up-tempo bluesy version of “Tequila,” the 1958 release by “The Champs,” I was drawn right in. From the first note from the harmonica, I could tell that this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill blues harmonica player. No, this was someone who clearly knew his way around the instrument… and then some. Only after hearing the entire CD was I able to confirm my suspicion that it was harmonica great, Adam Gussow. Many of you know him from his 25-year partnership with guitarist Sterling “Mr. Satan” McGee, performing as Satan and Adam. Me, I’m probably more familiar with him as an educator from the many in-depth harmonica tutorials that he so generously posts on his YouTube channel, with which I have spent considerable time. Educator that he is, a nice touch on the CD jacket has Gussow including the harmonica keys used for each song. Regardless of from where you might have heard him – you’re in for a treat!
This is the second CD for the Blues Doctors, which consist of Gussow on harmonica, vocals, and percussion, along with Alan Gross on guitar and vocals. Recorded at Hill Country Recording in Water Valley Mississippi, the 11 tracks on this CD include several blues standards, along with two of Gussow’s original tunes. All are relatively stripped-down in their arrangements, consisting of mostly Gussow and Gross, occasionally complemented with bass guitar, and on one track, a single snare drum. But don’t think for a minute that this is a laid-back, front porch acoustic affair. Gussow’s amplified – and seemingly effortless – harmonica drives much of this collection, and it swings hard. Real hard.
Some of the songs with which you might be already familiar include Elmore James’ “Cry for Me, Baby,” Arthur Cruddup’s “That’s All Right,” and Muddy Waters’ “Rollin and Tumblin’.” The album closes-out with some numbers recorded “live” at a North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, and includes Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go,” Waters’ “Take You Downtown,” and their interpretation of the Robert Johnson classic “Crossroads Blues.” There’s also a cover of Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and Gussow’s minor-key original, “Blues For Hank,” both of which feature Chicago-based jazz bassist Bill Harrison.
The one odd duck on this CD is “Magic,” a song you might be most familiar with from Olivia Newton-John’s performance in the 1980 film, Xanadu. Yeah… that one. Not a particularly great song to begin with, but hey… I give credit to Gussow for continually stretching his considerable skills to outside the traditional blues lexicon. His harmonica treatment of the song is fine, but the addition of R&B vocalist Zaire Love – both harmonizing with Gussow, as well as weaving an overlaid vocal in-and-out of the overall arrangement – might have made sense on paper. But , in real life, it’s more than a bit messy, and is conspicuously out-of-place with the other tracks on the album.
That track aside, it’s a very pleasing collection of catchy arrangements that will get your toes tapping. Gross’ guitar playing is not flashy, but is rather more rhythmic and percussive, and becomes the central underpinning of these song arrangements. It complements Gussow’s playing nicely, and the result is an up-tempo album of blues standards… and then some, all generously seasoned with Gussow’s masterful, very fluid harmonica playing. Highly recommended!