Normally I’m a Night Owl, the kind of guy who is more likely to go to bed just as the sun is coming up. I could have adjusted to becoming a vampire with only a few changes – like that whole drinking blood thing. But the bedtime part of it I could have handled with ease.
But for some reason last night I went to bed early and found myself wide awake an hour or so before dawn. Fortunately Mrs. Professor can sleep through a nuclear blast so I was able to get up, make a cup of dark coffee, and go for a walk.
Jordan’s Branch is a lovely smallish town, one of those disappearing jewels that one can occasionally stumble upon when you’re in the process of driving from somewhere to somewhere else and get lost or need gas.
The night was dark but the stars in the mountains burn in the sky. When you’re away from the city you can see them much better. No light pollution to blot them out and they reward you with a beautiful show. The air is thin and there is no humidity to get in the way.
I almost felt like I could touch them.
The road from my house leads past a small gathering of other houses guarded by garden gnomes and slumbering dogs. Past the baseball diamond waiting for spring so small children can learn one of America’s best traditions.
The small pond rested reflecting the waning moon off its surface and hoped that ducks would come visiting before long. They wouldn’t even need to bring a cake.
About this time the stars began to fade, chased by the encroaching streaks of light in the east. The colors of dawn eased over the mountains and I paused to watch them.
The world was waking up and before long people would be leaving home and heading to work. I would do the same, first to school to teach bored undergraduates, then to the studio to work on the show with Henry, and finally to the Juke Joint to greet customers and serve up a few drinks.
A busy day, but one that started in magic and lets me do the things I love. Feeling blessed, I reach into the ever growing pile of CDs and pull out one that I hope will add to my joy.
I come out with Uphill From Anwhere, a CD from Brad Hatfield, a singer and harpist from Cincinnati. I don’t know the cat, so I’m looking forward to hearing him and I pop it into my old school disc player. Can’t tell you how many times my family and friends have laughed at me for carrying around that flying saucer looking player, but if something works, I tend to stay with it.
The first track, Witness To My Misery, one of the seven songs Hatfield wrote or co-wrote on the album starts off with a solid couple of licks. Okay, my interest is piqued, and his growling vocals sure sounds like the blues. I’m intrigued and we’ll stick with this one.
After doing a little research, I find out that Hatfield’s story is amazing. At the age of 25 he was involved in an accident that paralyzed him. Many people would crawl off in defeat, but Hatfield picked up the harp. He’d been a guitar player but couldn’t use his hands to play anymore. He was a little old to start playing the harp, but he mastered it and when you add his amazing vocal work, he started to move up the scene in Cincinnati.
Insert obligatory WKRP Joke here…
Fit To Be The Fool is next up and the harp intro is a nice hook, but it is Hatfield’s voice that really makes this album special. He’s backed by a solid band including Jon Justice on guitar and writer or co-writer on three songs; Bernie Hatfield on a variety of keys, Michael Bram on drums and Scot Hornick on bass. They are joined by special guests Dave Gross on acoustic and rhythm guitar on two songs, and Dennis Gruenling on harp on another.
One More Night has a serious old school vibe with Bernie Hatfield’s keys getting a gospel style workout. This would be a great crowd pleaser. He dials the tempo down a notch with She Got Time, a Hatfield/Justice collaboration. The song again gives Bernie Hatfield’s keys a workout.
He keeps the groove going with Somebody’s Got To Lose. It’s been a solid album up to this point and you have to wonder what this guy could do with a larger audience. So far he’s delivered everything you could want in a debut album and we’re only about halfway through.
Justice’s End of Time is up next with some cool end of the world lyrics with a nice twist. The lyrics are smart and the underplaying of the organ adds a nice touch. I’ve been waiting for a nice slow number and Livin’ Out The Lie delivers it with passion. So far my one complaint has been that the album has a sameness about it – there’s no real contrast. You can toss that complaint out the window, Hatfield’s voice is in total control here and the payoff is very nice.
He builds on the feeling by covering Son House’s Death Letter, one of the most gut wrenching songs ever. Here he strips it down to mainly piano and drums with a harp break to give it that old juke joint feel. It’s a solid interpretation. And damn gutsy as well.
He picks up the tempo with Headstrong Baby, keeping it old school but transitioning to more of the sound he used for the beginning of the CD. He’s got a good harp run to open Too Good To Give Away. One of the great can’t-live-without-her stories punctuated by harp runs and Hatfield’s growling voice.
He closes out the CD with one of the great songs, Blind Willie Johnson’s John The Revelator, sung a cappela to the band’s clapping. You can’t help but sway along with this classic, carried away by the gospel fervor Hatfield conjures up.
Make no mistake about it, Brad Hatfield is the real McCoy. He’s got a great sound, solid backing, and he writes a song like nobody’s business. This is a very good debut album and shows a lot of promise, and I can guarantee you’ll be hearing his songs on Time For The Blues very soon.
For more information, be sure to check out the band's website here. And tell 'em the Professor says hello.
(Picture of Brad Hatfield’s CD lifted from the internet. If you’re the copyright holder and don’t want us to use the image, please let us know and we’ll remove it. Of course we’ll replace it with a stick figure that no one will recognize.)