It’s no secret that I am a big fan of the River City Blues Society in Richmond. Not only have they been an underwriter of Time For The Blues, they have been kind enough to include me and Henry in their activities – hosting and emceeing their annual Blues Festival, Parkfest; acting as a judge at their Blues Challenge and their CD challenge, and letting us join in the fun at their annual Holiday Gathering.
They run a number of shows during the year, some on Friday evenings, some big shows on the weekends, and once a month on a Sunday Brunch.
Mrs. Professor and I were able to attend one recently as we were in town to review a play and decided to stay over and see the group the Society had booked for the show. I was not familiar with Hard Swimmin’ Fish, but was intrigued by their website and figured it would definitely be worth our time to visit with friends, enjoy a little brunch and hear some good blues music.
If you are reading this and don’t belong to a blues society, I suggest you give yourself a great present and join one. Or two. Or however many you can locate near your house. If there aren’t any nearby, start one. It’s a great way to commune with like minds and you just might find yourself building up your record collection as you discover more and more great music.
Hard Swimmin’ Fish is a hard driving quartet out of the Northern Virginia - Maryland area, the kind of bar band that just might sneak up on you and hit you with a tight show and have some CDs to fatten up that collection.
On this particular Sunday, they had two CDs on their swag tray; One Step Forward and The Hard Swimmin’ Fish Live. I picked them both up for $20 (special discount for blues hosts) and popped in the studio effort on the way back to the mountains. Dangling participle aside, it was a good choice and by the time we made it back to the Juke Joint, I was hooked.
Get it, hooked? Sheesh, tough audience.
The core Fish are Demian Lewis on guitar and vocals, Waverly Milor on harmonica and vocals, Jason Walker on drums and percussion and Randall Ball of upright and electric bass. They are joined on one number by Carl Disque on saxophone. These guys have apparently been together since high school having started out as a goth band and finding their way over to the blues.
Put Me Down starts off the album with Lewis’ vocals playing with Milor’s harp and the rhythm section providing a tight beat. Milor’s harp gets a strong workout and you get the feeling that he is going to grab just about every break he can. Lewis slides in effortlessly to take his break and he shows some solid licks.
Next up is Have Your Way With Me, a fun raucous number that easily could get the audience up and dancing. Again Milor and Lewis trade off leads. They lyrics are upbeat and bouncy and should be a lot of fun live.
The band quickly segues into Hear Your Mama Calling. A crunchy number that could easily slip into swamp territory with a slightly different arrangement. Lewis’ vocals are more growl than slick, and this could be one of those that pulls you under its spell. Milor’s harp soars, and Walker’s drumming is very good.
The title track, One Step Forward, is a fast driving song that picks you up immediately and doesn’t let you go. It shakes you around with its boogie beat. Lewis’ guitar doesn’t let up and this one has to be a killer when done live.
Blind Love slows things down nicely and shows that the band has more than one speed. Sometimes the heart of the blues beats slowly and this is a nice touch. I love the long harp intro and you immediately feel like you are in a smoky nightclub. Milor’s lyrics are a little off-kilter which makes you listen all the more. This is a great song, maybe my favorite on the album.
The next selection, Just What You Need, drives, but in a lower gear. Lewis’ voice is smoother and the rhythm section of Walker and Ball are in fine form, allowing Lewis and Milor to trade off until Lewis starts a little National Steel work that dominates the song.
Up until now, all the songs have been written by either Lewis or Milor. Can’t Judge A Book is a tune written by Willie Dixon and the band makes it sound as if it were written for them. They capture the pure fun that Bo Diddley originally put into the song without sacrificing their own unique sound.
The other song not written by Lewis or Milor is Bukka White’s Shake ‘Em On Down. Once again we’re taking a slight detour to a more Delta approach. The vocals are more growl, giving the number a more primitive sound and Lewis’ guitar dominates the selection.
The HSF slows things down a little for Done Me In giving us a nice transition. Milor’s harp is more subtle; staying in the background and giving off some ghostly riffs while Lewis takes us through this song of despair. The entire band takes a turn in the spotlight and you know this is one they could jam on live.
Guest saxophonist Carl Disque adds a little 1950’s flavor to Sorry Baby, But It’s True. This reminds the Professor of those first tentative dances where the girls all stood on one side of the room and the boys hid on the other. Who would be the first to cross that room and extend a hand. (If you think it was me, I was hanging out with the adult deejaying the party telling her what records to play. I definitely would have played this one.)
No Damn Good starts out with a nice noir feel with a little different drumming approach by Walker. Remember the blues can take on a variety of guises and the lyrics are definitely the blues. Lewis’ guitar soars again and gives us a very cool flavor. Highly recommended.
The album closes out with I Don’t Mind, a little more National Steel to give us that down home Delta sound. This has a very cool old school feel to it and takes us out nicely. It’s a very satisfying end to a good CD.
These guys are good and worth the price of admission to catch them live. I suggest checking out their website at www.hardswimminfish.com to find out when they are going to play a club or festival near you. In the meantime, I’m already planning on which songs to play on Time For The Blues and looking for their earlier CDs.
In the meantime, I think I need to add this one to the Juke Box. Hey boys, if you find your way to Jordan’s Branch, drop by the Juke Joint. First round is on the Professor.
(Picture was taken from the Hard Swimmin' Fish website, if they want me to take it down, they'll have to admit that my hooked joke was funny. Otherwise, it stays...)