The harmonica is such a versatile instrument. It can be joyous or convey sadness and when it’s in the hands of a master sometimes both within the same song. And make no mistake about it, Mitch Kashmar is a master.
On his latest album, West Coast Toast, he makes the harp sing and take songs into darkness as well as dance in the light. He’s not afraid to mix in other styles with his blues, with a prominent element being jazz. The band delivers several instrumentals and it’s hard to ignore the influence of jazz on these songs.
But there is also straight up blues and swing blues to add flavor to this fun album. Kashmar is backed up by some great musicians who can handle everything that the music demands – and do so with ease. Aside from Kashmar on the harp and vocals, he is joined by Junior Watson on guitar; Fred Kaplan on piano, Hammond organ, and even cabasa on one song; Bill Stuve on upright bass; and Marty Dodson on drums.
Kashmar wrote six of the eleven songs on the album and found some great tunes to cover from the likes of Willie Dixon, Lowell Fulson, Billy Boy Arnold and others.
East Of 82ND Street starts the album off with a little swing and an example of just how good Kashmar’s harp playing can be. It’s precise and energetic and the band is in great form. This is a fun instrumental that really gets the blood pumping.
Willie Dixon’s Too Many Cooks is next. Kashmar’s vocals are good and fit well with the jazzy blues feel that the band establishes. Once Kashmar gets to the harp break and lets it take over the energy rises pronouncedly. Fred Kaplan’s piano gets a good workout as well.
The band gets into some deep blues with Young Girl. Kaplan’s organ playing sets up the song and the band keeps a groove going throughout. The harp break gives the song some of its darkness and Junior Watson’s guitar adds even more.
Kashmar’s own The Petroleum Blues is next with a strong upbeat music line. Listen to the lyrics however and you will hear a serious message from the song. It’s so relevant to much of what’s going on in the world today and that gives the song added power!
They follow up with another Kashmar penned song, the instrumental Mood Indica. This one has some seriously deep blues in the mix with the harp playing well off the piano. In fact, the entire band gets in on the jam, trading licks and adding to the mood.
The band swings on the next tune, Don’t Stay Out All Night. Classic blues song that uses an upbeat musical background against some darker lyrics. Watson’s guitar handles the majority of the first break with the harp taking a supporting role.
Things slow down on Kashmar’s My Lil’ Stumptown Shack. It’s got that feeling of a man who’s lost everything and has to start all over again. But can he actually muster up the drive to get back, or is it time to just hang his head someplace else?
Business picks up on Kashmar’s Makin’ Bacon with the band swinging and swooping in and out of the number, the harp leading the way. It’s a fun instrumental that sets up a pretty happy mood.
Interesting enough, the follow up song is John Lee Williamson’s Alcohol Blues, a darker lament to the art of drinking. It’s a true old-school number that sounds like it could have been recorded much the same way in an earlier era. It’s a nice testament and a great song.
Lowell Fuson’s Love Grows Cold picks up the pace considerably and the band truly rocks the number. Watson’s guitar takes the break and really gets things smoking before turning it over to Kaplan’s piano.
The album concludes with one last Kashmar original, Canoodlin’. Kind of a slow-paced number with the organ ushering in the song along with the harp. The band stretches out – they are in no hurry to end things and want to make sure that each man gets his chance to step into the spotlight. It’s another instrumental showing that the band can handle all moods and isn’t afraid to let the music speak for itself.
West Coast Toast is a great album with a lot of fun swinging blues and a modicum of jazz to keep you going. I think it’s got a great sound, the band is tight, and Kashmar is one of the best harpists working today. We’ve already featured it on Time For The Blues, and honestly, I look forward to sampling more from it as I can make the chance.
Make sure you check out Kashmar’s page on the Delta Groove website: http://www.deltagrooveproductions.com/project/mitch-kashmar/ to see what else he has available or to catch up on where he’s going to be.