Since winning the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2016, the Seattle based duo of Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons have been busy taking full advantage of the opportunities the contest afforded them. One of those was the chance to tour with eclectic legend of American blues harmonica Phil Wiggins and record a new album, A Black & Tan Ball, released last month. The sparkling, stripped-down, all-acoustic album features the multi-instrumental talents of Hunter and Seamons and vocals from all three troubadours. The 13-song set is a collection of classics from the Great American Songbook that may be familiar to some and new to many, that deserve the tender loving care given here to preserve them and progress the art of folk blues and country jazz and work song tales from the rural South and African-American traditions.
The three work seamlessly together for the first six tracks, beginning with the devilish “Do You Call That A Buddy,” the speedy instrumental “Shanghai Rooster,” featuring fine fiddle playing from Hunter, and old-time swing and scat of “How’m I Doin’.” Wiggins shows off his tender side on the sweet swaying Duke Ellington standard “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” and spares with Hunter’s fiddle on the rambling “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque.” Live recordings of the mournful tome “John Henry” and the pleading “Longing For My Sugar” are dropped in the middle section. The final four tracks dig deep into Delta and Depression pre-war blues with “Hard Times Blues” from 1935 and Hunter wailing on “Bullfrog Blues” from 1928. There’s also the tale of a killer, “Bad Man Ballad,” which was first recorded at Parchman Farm by Alan Lomax and here is revived with flair. The trio closes the set with the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Stop And Listen,” a true prototype of the blues that encapsulates the vernacular of the genre.
Rick J Bowen