Zac Harmon – Mississippi BarBQ
Born and raised in Mississippi, Zac Harmon got an early start on his music career when he played guitar for singer and noted harp blower Sam Myers. That lead to more work with touring blues and R&B artists including Dorothy Moore and Z.Z. Hill. But eventually Harmon fell under the spell of the bright lights, big city, leading to a move to Los Angeles, where he wrote songs for a variety of artists as well as working on films and television shows. At one point, he was a staff writer for Michael Jackson’s team. He received a Grammy nomination for his writing and production with the reggae band Black Uhuru.
After the turn of the century, Harmon felt his roots calling him home, so he made the decision to play blues music. That move paid immediate dividends when he was named the top blues band at the 2004 International Blues Challenge, the annual event in Memphis sponsored by the Blues Foundation. More recognition came when his 2005 release, The Blues For Zacariah, won the Blues Music Award in the Best New Artist Debut category.
On his seventh release, Harmon showcases all of the aspects of his artistry. His songwriting is featured with two originals and another five co-written with Executive Producer and label owner Bob Trenchard. You know that the music will sound fine with noted producer Jim Gaines behind the recording console. Seven tracks feature the Catfood house band, the Rays, featuring Trenchard on bass, Richy Puga on drums, Johnny McGhee on guitar, Dan Ferguson on keyboards, Mike Middleton on trumpet, Andy Roman on alto saxophone, Nick Flood on tenor and baritone sax, and Drake Dominigue on trombone and tuba. Harmon’s own band appears on four tracks, with Corey Carmichael on keyboards, Chris Gipson an bass, Ralph Forrest on drums, and Texas Slim on rhythm guitar. Harmon handles the lead vocals and guitar parts throughout the disc.
The opening number, “Gypsy Road,” finds Harmon”s strong voice soaring over the Rays’ solid rhythm, with the leader’s searing guitar work making a lasting impression. The horns are prominently featured on “So Cold,” as Harmon bares his soul over a dying relationship. The mood isn’t much better on “Smoke And Mirrors,” a funky elegy to a trickster femme fatale with more tightly drawn guitar work. On “Make A Dollar Out Of Fifteen Cents,” Harmon and his band establish a groove reminiscent of the later stages of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s career on a song that finds Harmon strapped for cash, stating “I was so hungry, I’d fight a dog for a bone”.
The title cut flows along like a cool summer breeze with visions of friends gathering for BBQ chicken, ribs, collard greens, and cold beer. Harmon adds another righteous guitar interlude while getting vocal support from Janelle Thompson, Shakara Weston, SueAnn Carwell, and Carmichael. “Sunday Morning After Saturday Night” is a tight shuffle with Texas Slim’s biting guitar answered by blasts from the horns. Another highlight is the tale of a brief entanglement told on “Desperate Love,” once again told by Harmon in convincing fashion. Carmichael’s rolling piano licks spark “Honey Pleez,” another straight-ahead blues with guest Bob Corritore blowing a brief harp solo. Harmon provides a unflinching recounting of his past on “Lord Save Me From LA,” a song that won’t win the hearts of folks at the local Convention & Visitors Bureau.
One of Harmon’s originals, “Since You Been Gone,” finds him doing fine after a break-up, unwilling to consider reviving the love affair. Munyungo Jackson adds additional percussion to the track, one of four cuts he appears on. The disc ends with a cover of Bob Dylan’s oft-covered “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”. Harmon leads with a biting guitar intro, then gives an uplifting vocal turn that pushes his voice to the edge before ending with a beautifully crafted guitar solo.
As good as Harmon’s previous releases were, this one just might be the best yet. If you haven’t heard him before, grab a copy and become of a fan. A fine release from start to finish!