Remembering Little Walter- Various Artists
Remembering Little Walter
Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia, James Harmon
Even if the subject wasn’t harp god Little Walter Jacobs, this one would be a keeper due to the wealth of talent assembled to pay tribute to him for this project on Blind Pig records. Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia, and James Harmon on one stage for one evening is the ticket you want for an unequaled evening of reed-bending ecstasy. Two of the 5 harmonica superstars featured on this Blind Pig release, Charlie Musselwhite and Billy Boy Arnold, knew Jacobs and performed with him.
Mark Hummel, host of scores of left coast Blues Harmonica Blowouts, recorded this one live in San Diego at Anthology. He kicks it off with Jacobs’ “I Got To Go,” chugging like a freight train, his harp trills sparking off like red hot cinders spattering to the floor around his feet. Former Little Charlie and the Nightcats namesake Charlie Baty weaves around him seamlessly, framing Hummel’s solos like they were old masters.
Musselwhite’s masterful take on “Just a Feelin’” is a Jacobs tutorial on phrasing, feeling, and technique as the harpist pours out his heart, soul and guts. He gets some great overtones happening as well. It’s a magnificent performance, worthy of Jacobs at his best.
Sugar Ray Norcia’s take on “Mean Old World” is a mirror image of Jacobs’ harp track,with Baty prettying up the guitar accompaniment with some smooth curlicues and drummer June Core punching up the beat a bit from the original. Norcia’s voice sounds more like Kim Wilson than Little Walter, but that just makes the cut a little funkier.
Billy Boy Arnold says “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” is one of his favorite little Walter songs, proving it by pumping a fan’s intensity into the laid-back vehicle, polishing it to a hard shine.
James Harmon’s vocals on his version of “It’s Too Late Brother” are a bit more laid back and mellow than Jacobs’ edgy warning tone on the original,but his harp is spot on,as sharp edged and dangerous as the originator’s.
Baty is a very impressive and important asset to this project all the way through. He never steps out front or is flashy, but his guitar ties it all together without distracting your attention away from the front men.
Everybody piles on for the finale, “My Babe.” It’s a head-cuttin’ contest, vocally and harp-wise, but declaring a winner is easy. Everybody who hears this evening’s presentation comes out on top.
By Grant Britt