Zac Harmon – Long as I Got My Guitar | Album Review

Zac Harmon – Long as I Got My Guitar

Catfood Records CFR-031

10 songs – 41 minutes

One of the most versatile artists in the blues, Zac Harmon cut new ground on his previous release, Mississippi BarBQ, a tasty serving of horn-fueled, contemporary music, but returns full force to his stripped-down roots on this one, an all-original set that – like the last one – is produced by Grammy winner Jim Gaines, but takes listeners home to his roots: the deeply soulful sounds created along Farish Street in Jackson, Miss.

An exceptionally stylish vocalist and guitarist who burst onto the scene in 2006 by capturing top honors in the Blues Music Awards for The Blues According to Zachariah, which took home the trophy for best new artist debut album of the year, Zac’s also a former International Blues Challenge winner, and he served for a time on the board of the Blues Foundation, too.

The son of a harmonica-playing pharmacist and keyboard playing mom, his next-door neighbor was a prominent music instructor who welcomed Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and others into his home. Steeped in the music throughout his childhood, Harmon turned pro at age 16, joining the roster of a band fronted by harp player/family friend Sam Myers.

Stints in support of Z.Z. Hill, Dorothy Moore and other favorites followed before he relocated to Los Angeles at 21, where he established himself in the ‘70s and ‘80s as a musician by working in film, TV and commercials as a songwriter whose material were recorded by Evelyn “Champagne” King, The O’Jays, Freddie Jackson and others. His tune, “One Love,” was one of the biggest hits off the reggae group Black Uhuru’s Grammy-nominated Mystical Truth CD.

His return to the sounds of his childhood came in the early 2000s, when he composed and performed blues tunes for a movie, released the album Live at Babe & Ricky’s Inn in 2003 and won the IBCs a year later. This is the eighth CD in Harmon’s career, and like the last one, it was recorded at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas.

The Rays — Catfood Records’ top-notch studio band (label owner Bob Trenchard on bass with Richy Puga on drum, Johnny McGhee on guitar and Dan Ferguson on keyboards) provide backing on nine of the ten cuts with Zac’s regular road band (Corey Lacy on keys, Chris Gipson on bass and Jamil Byron on drums) sitting in on the other. They’re augmented by SueAnn Carwell and  Lacy on backing vocals and a special guest appearance by Munyungo Jackson on half the tracks.

Harmon and Trenchard co-wrote eight of the songs, which are augmented by a pair penned by Memphis-based tunesmith Sandy Carroll. And all of the material on this one is silky smooth and slightly behind the beat throughout.

The slick “Deal with the Devil” opens the action with a brief single-note guitar intro atop a funky, syncopated beat before Zac launches into a warning that you’d better be careful what you wish for because “hell’s fire is burning bright” and “there’s no way to go home again.” A stinging, extended mid-tune solo drives the message home. The six-string bite continues in the unhurried “People Been Talking,” which confronts a lover about rumors that she’s cheating with a man who’s just 20 years old. The tune concludes with multiple repetitions of the words of the title, which drives the message home.

The timbre warms slightly but the pace remains the same for “Crying Shame,” a two-step ballad with deep Gulf Coast feel that bemoans being responsible for unspoken actions that led to the singer’s baby leaving home. The mood brightens for Carroll’s “Soul Land,” a fond visit to a home where everything exists in harmony, before Zac’s regular ensemble joins the action for the medium-paced “Love for You Baby,” a paeon to a lady who kisses the singer while he’s still asleep and has a meal ready before he sets foot in the door.

Harmon’s pawned his watch and lost all of his money and friends in the opening verse of the title tune, “Long as I Got My Guitar,” but he remains at peace – and a star — as long as his six-string remains close at hand. It yields to the driving “Waiting to Be Free,” a complaint about racial injustice, before relationship problems resurface in “New Year’s Day” and diminish with the opening notes of “Imagine a Prayer,” which dreams of a world free of division and hate. The disc closes with “Ashes to the Wind,” a wish to be remembered for whatever good deeds the singer’s performed prior to his passing.

If you’re looking for over-the-top blues-rock and unceasing pyrotechnics, look elsewhere. But if you love deep blues, this one’s definitely for you! Strongly recommended.

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