First things first, that’s his real legal name. It may not be the name he was given at birth, but it is who he is. Harpdog Brown. The name fits him like a glove, too. He’s a master harmonica player and a helluva performer.
I just received a copy of his 2016 Dog House Records release Travelin’ With The Blues, and as soon as I put it on, I knew I had discovered a new favorite player. Brown is a seasoned player who manages to sound more old-school than just about anyone working today. He’s got a good vocal style that can swing, growl, or rock, and his harp is among the best I’ve ever heard.
Using a core group of players: Jordie Edmonds on guitar and Pat Darcus on bass, Brown supplements his players with several guests including Charlie Musselwhite on harp, Big Jon Atkinson on drums and guitar, Carl Sonny Leyland on piano, Jimmy Morello on drums, Kid Andersen on guitar, Little Victor on guitar as well as being the producer for the album, and Rusty Zinn on guitar.
The album starts off with the sweet swinging Better Days. Brown quickly establishes he’s got a good voice and knows how to wring out the best from a song and guest Kid Andersen shows he can make a guitar sing as well. It’s a good way to start and when Brown introduces his harp, business picks up in a big way.
Otis Spann’s Must Have Been The Devil follows. This is a traditional sounding version with Morello’s drums and Edmonds’ guitar setting the table for Brown’s vocals and harp work. Any blues fan will tell you, you just can’t go wrong with a song like this. Great number and I can’t wait to share it.
Next up is Sacrifice, a slower blistering song. When you hear a song start off like this one does, there’s absolutely no mistaking that this is a blues song! Three songs in and Brown has shown that he has a deep appreciation and a great respect for the old-school style of the blues and that he and his band came make them come alive.
Willie Dixon’s Bring It On Home is the next swinging track. Brown puts in a great harp shuffle and his rhythm section gives the song its backbone. It’s a great interpretation of a classic song and sure to give every blues fan a little rush.
Charlie Musselwhite joins Brown on the next number, Moose On The Loose. The dueling harps make for an exciting instrumental and while I don’t often find the opportunity to play instrumentals on Time For The Blues, I just might have to make the time. It’s a solid rocking tune and the harp work is outstanding.
For Better Or Worse is the second song on the album to feature Andersen and to be recorded at his home studio, Greaseland. Andersen is proving that he is not only a great guitarist, but runs one of the most in-demand studios around. This is a good rocking blues tune with some great guitar work and is sure to get an audience up on its feet. Just kick back and enjoy this one.
The next song is true old-school. Fine Little Girl Rag swings and sounds like it would be right at home in a 1920’s review or just about any other bandstand. It has a quaint charm and a certain innocence, but is still engaging and features a great harp run. I bet Louis Armstrong or Fats Waller would have had a field day with this one!
Brown follows up with Cloud Full Of Rain, a front porch toe tapper that is a great feel good song. It has a simple arrangement, but could easily be expanded for a larger feel. Or it just remain the kind of song you want to play on a cigarbox guitar with a harp and hand percussion. So much fun.
Next up is the autobiographical What’s Your Real Name. I confess that before I heard this song, I wondered the same question, but after listening to the album, I totally understand that Harpdog Brown is this man’s identity and the name is merely an extension of that. Stop wondering, start listening, and you can just enjoy his artistry. This number is a great talking blues number and it comes at the perfect time on the album, after you’ve had a chance to hear him and start to question the reality of Brown’s name.
Blues has to reflect life around us, and with Facebook Mama, it moves a little more into the cyber world. It’s just the latest way for someone to make some time with someone else – not their man or woman. Brown still finds a way to make it sound like a real old-school number. Love it!
Home Is Where The Harp Is is a newer interpretation of a song Brown recorded earlier in his career. This one has a very cool Jimmy Reed feel to it and it is a solid blues number. One thing about Brown and his players, he makes the older songs feel new and creates newer songs that feel like classics.
One of the hardest swingingest songs on the album is Another Fool Like Me. If this one doesn’t get to you, better get your meds checked because you’re probably not breathing. I love this Jesse Thomas number and it will probably be the first song off the album that I play on the show.
Muddy Waters wrote and recorded Hard Days Blues, the next song on the album and Brown and his friends do a great job on their version. They make it sound like how Muddy recorded it in the ‘40’s when he was unfettered and smoking hot. It’s raw and very very cool.
The album closes with Hayward Boogie, an end of the day throwdown with Edmonds, Darcus, and Morella creating a jam for Brown to lay down some hot harp licks over. I’ve always enjoyed the spontaneity of artists, and this is a fine example of some quick improvisations leading to a satisfying instrumental to end the album.
Harpdog Brown should be a household name among blues lovers. He’s a strong performer with good vocals and excellent harp chops. As a bandleader, he’s put together a tight core group and he knows how to pick guest artists that will enhance his sound beautifully.
I strongly recommend Travelin’ With The Blues and can’t wait to get my hands on his other albums. If you feel the same way, why don’t you join me and visit his website at http://www.harpdogbrown.com/ to pick them up and find out where he’s going to be playing live. If he’s ever anywhere near where I am at the moment, I’m dropping everything and heading for his show!