Various Artists – Low Blows for Ida: Harmonica Blues for Hurricane Relief
50 songs – 114 minutes
Arizona-based producer Tom Walbank is a man with a mission in promoting acoustic harmonica blues, and he outdoes himself with his latest effort. He’s recruited 38 world-class reed-benders – including Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin, Mark Hummel, Bob Corritore and other top names from around the globe – in a charitable effort to raise funds for folks along the Gulf Coast who were devastated by Hurricane Ida last August.
A British émigré and top-notch harp player himself, Walbank flew under the radar earlier this year with the stellar Hootmatic Blues, which delivered an hour-long collection of mostly solo acoustic treasures that paid tribute to Sonny Terry, and many of the same artists who appeared on that one have contributed to this digital-only project, too, including Joe Filisko, the undisputed king of country blues harp in the U.S. today.
The roster includes Annie Raines, Phil Wiggins, Peter “Madcat” Ruth, Deak Harp, Adam Gussow, Johnny Mars and Terry “Harmonica” Bean as well as rising star Andrew Alli, all of whom shine brightly in American circles, Canadians Harpdog Brown and Carlos del Junco, Indian transplant Aki Kumar, Brits Paul Gillings, Gareth Tucker, Will Wilde, Steve Baker and Paul Lamb and others from France and Italy, too.
And when you add contributions from top harmonica instructor David Barrett, RJ Mischo, Wade Schuman of Hazmat Modine and other lesser known, but equally skilled players to the mix, if you’re a harp enthusiast, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Like the title of the collection suggests, work on the low end of the harmonica features prominently, beginning with Musselwhite opening on chromatic for “Strolling on Issaquena.” That song flows effortlessly into Gillings’ take on “Blowing a Low A” before Gussow follows suit with the first of two versions of “Poor Boy” he serves up in the set. After a subdued opening few measures, Tucker heats up the action dramatically in “Swinging Low (Blues for Charlie H.),” an amplification of the familiar “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”
It’s impossible to include all of the pleasers here even in an extended review. But the highlights include Alli’s workout on “Simple Times,” Wilson’s lilting “Instrumentalism,” Filisko’s dazzling “Lost Rock Chase,” Walbank’s workouts on “The Cuff,” “Tomcat Boogie,” “Baby Train” and “Fifty Blue,” which closes, as well as Wilde’s haunting “And the Rain Fell.”
Be sure to give a good listen to Corritore’s “Jambalaya,” Tom Ball and Ross Garren’s duet of “Backyard Blues,” Hummel’s tasty “Rice Pudding” and “Poor Pouree,” Parisian master Charles Pasi’s “Tea Cup in a Storm” and his countryman Vincent Bucher’s “Angata,” Estrin’s “Estrin Boogie,” Barrett’s stylish “Sonny’s Bird” and Bean’s sweeping “Terry Bean Boogie.”
And don’t miss Wiggins’ bare-bones “Tone Down,” Ruth’s blazing and whooping “Pa-Sh-Hup-Pa,” Adam Pritchard’s lilting “Gob Iron Boogie,” Mischo’s “Paper Shoe Shuffle,” del Junco’s “CDJ’s Harmonica Riff,” Schuman’s percussive “In a Cave in France,” Raines’ sweet “Cryin’ Mama,” Harpdog’s “Louisiana Moan,” Mars’ reworking of “Amazing Grace” and Ol’ Shady Pete’s “Journey to the Sky.”
If you’re a harp player, Low Blows for Ida will serve as a master class collection for developing your skills. If you’re “just” a blues fan, you’ll love it to. Contribute to a good cause by downloading it from Bandcamp (address above).