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Do Not Disturb, I Declare, Wake Up Call, Rags To Riches, Stranger Blues, Icepick's Advice, Motel King, Swampnight, Icepick's Confession, Phone Bill Blues, Mad ‘Bout Somethin', I'm Gone - plus bonus track I've Got News.

If only all blues CDs sounded this good! James Harman co-produced it himself and insisted on using "old microphones into lots of air in a big room with old tube mikes, tube amps, into special pre-amps, onto old style two inch tape on sixteen track analogue machines. Finally, for a big, fat, warm real sound - no Dolby, no enhancement, no gimmicks, no gags". Originally recorded in 1991 for Black Top Records, this re-issue features one of the best ever James Harman bands. Along side James on harmonica, there's Jeff Turmes on bass and slide guitar, Stephen Mugalian on drums and Joel Foy on lead guitar. On top of all that, Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and the legendary saxophonist Lee Allen help out on a coupla tracks too.

Not only is Harman a great band leader, arranger and producer - he's also extremely talented in the song writing department too. Every tune here is first rate, covering all the bases from hardcore Chicago burn-ups and thumping West Coast R&B sounds to jump blues and Texas roadhouse blues. The whole thing sizzles - from the opening number "Do Not Disturb" with it's Lee Dorsey-type beat and "I Declare", an uptown stomper with some of the sharpest, slicing guitar-work on record, to the hard rocking choogle of "Icepick's Confession" and the incendiary harmonica workout on "Mad ‘Bout Something".

Harman is one of the few bluesmen who really savours a slow blues. "Phone Bill Blues" allows space for him to stretch out on vocals while the band gets behind him with long soulful chords and eccentric spiteful little guitar licks. Although this track has a sax section blowing hard throughout, it's a big showcase for Joel Foy's stunning guitar playing; his solo here is sensational to say the least.

"Swampnight" sounds like Slim Harpo backed by The Fabulous Thunderbirds thanks to a shimmering guitar style and relaxed beat. Harman wades in with some of his finest vocals but it's when he gets out the harp that the real action starts.  His hard blowing raises everything up a notch as he plays a couple of solos that are just joyful.

If you like the power of wailing West Coast blues, try "Rags To Riches". This one's a booming piece of work dominated by Lee Allen and generating a great New Orleans feel thanks to the lovely piano rumblings from Gene Taylor. One of my favourites is "Stranger Blues" - an easy going, almost lilting groove, popping along with that nasty tone of Foy's guitar and Jeff Turmes' quirky slide solo just before James takes over with some big fat harmonica riffs that would've thrilled Little Walter. "Icepick's Advice" features James shuckin' and jivin' in the talkin' blues style while the band rock out in a snappy shuffle that features David Hidalgo's exquisite squeezebox and Joel Foy's delicate runs, but the high spot of the arrangement occurs when James lets rip with some of the hardest harp playing on the CD.

Hard to believe this terrific CD was recorded more than seventeen years ago and it's just as exciting now as it was when it was first released. This is one of those albums that you'll still be playing in another seventeen years - a certified five star killer!

Ask for HEP0014. A brilliant re-issue for only £12.50 plus p&p


Review Date: January 2009

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