"Down Home Old School Country Blues" is an apt title for this wonderful set from two of my favourite blues artists -- Richard Ray Farrell and harp maestro Steve Guyger.
Between them, this duo have racked up 65 years of performing the blues -- and it shows as they perform sixteen well chosen covers, investing them with a new life but retaining that earthy, feral beauty that epitomizes the work of the great acoustic blues masters -- uncluttered picking and chording, wailing harp allied to soulful, down-to-earth vocals. In short -- the "real deal".
Farrell opens with John L Williamson's "Good Mornin' Little Schoolgirl", the wistful edge that permeates his vocals echoed by Guyger's propulsive harp and enhanced by his own strolling strumming. His vocals adopt a more menacing tone on "Rollin' And Tumblin", a "headbanging" blues propelled by rhythmic harp and fretwork -- whilst on "Friar's Point Blues" he captures the plaintive vocal and slide stylings that epitomized Robert Nighthawk's blues, Guyger's melancholy harp enhancing the mood and feel.
Luke Jordan's "Cocaine Blues" is an ebullient romp given a Jesse Fuller feel replete with wailing harp -- Tampa Red's "Gimme Mine Now" is invested with a manic intensity, Guyger's harp taking the role of the kazoo -- the rollicking "Keep Your Hands Off Her" and "You Can't Get That stuff No More" and a Satan and Adam inspired rendition of Tommy Johnson's "Big Road Blues" rounding out Farrell's vocal contributions.
Several of Guyger's selections inevitably draw from the works of the great harp maestros -- Rice Miller's "Cool Cool Place To Go", with it's fraught vocals, stomping guitar and Trumpet (Records) styled Sonny Boy harp -- and the frantic "I Gotta Go", which melds Parkway period Little Walter with Papa Lightfoot being particularly impressive. It was also inevitable that Guyger would feature numbers associated with John L Williamson, and we get two -- "Sail On" where his high register harp enhances the plaintive mood set by his resonant baritone vocals that are racked with regret -- and "Early In The Morning" where his wildly evocative harp lies in stark contrast to the mushy-mouthed, lisped vocals that evoke Williamson's spectre without being too derivative.
The frantic "Oh Red" with it's gritty vocals and Papa Lightfoot meets Blind Willie McTell feel -- and the raw power of "Baby Please Don't Go" are further highlights of this highly recommended set.
Mick Rainsford : Blues In Britain magazine