Album Reviews

Blues Harp Women

Blues Harp Women

Artist:     Blues Harp Women

Album:     Blues Harp Women

Label:     Ruf Records

Release Date:     11/20//2015


Discover 31 talented ladies from the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe across two CDs, with only a few of these names familiar to even the most ardent blues lover like myself. Leave it to Thomas Ruf to back such a massive endeavor. It’s the logical follow-up to Ruf Records’ 2005 Blues Guitar Women, even down to the similarities in the art work and presentation. But, while that collection featured some widely recognizable names, this one does not. Think about it, how many female blues harmonica players do you know?

Producer Paul Norman worked collaboratively with blues harmonica player, author and iconic street musician Adam Gussow to assemble the cast, having been inspired by listening to perhaps the original female harmonica player, Big Mama Thornton. As Norman searched and found other females blues harmonica players, he was inspired to create a website – Norman and Gussow claim to have contacted almost 200 players around the world and once they had narrowed down their selections to these 31 artists, they sought out Ruf.

Since the vast majority of the players were new to me, I devised my own rating process, considering the quality of harp playing, vocals and supporting accompaniment. Three artists on each disc, six in all, emerged as the strongest. Trina Hamlin, reared in the Midwest, earned her degree from Berklee College, and eventually landed in NYC where she frequently plays in clubs and writes for film and video. Here she gives us “Down to the Hollow,” performing solo on harp and vocals. Teresa “T-Bird” Lynne is a southerner who now makes her home in Colorado, where she is known as “Mistress of the Blues.” “One More Lie” is a slow burner that showcases her vocal and harp prowess. Mattie Phifer has an extensive track record of performing in rock and blues bands. Her harp solo reflects both creativity and great tone on “Please Call Daddy.”

On disc two, we get one of the more widely known women, Annie Raines, from the Boston area. Her live instrumental rendition of “Lookin’ Good” is performed with her partner, guitar master Paul Rishell. Annie’s solo is roof raising. Diana Redlin is originally from Montana and now resides in Southern California. “Never Leave Me Home” has her blowing in coy counterplay with her sax player on this blistering, up tempo shuffle. Classically trained Christelle Berthon delivers an emotionally nuanced instrumental version of the chestnut “Summertime.” My only quibble with the liner notes is that no credits are given to supporting musicians, but I am grateful for the biographical info on these ladies, 25 of which are left for you to discover. This project’s intention is so honorable that it makes it difficult for the music to consistently measure up. In most cases, though, it does. Dig in.

– Jim Hynes

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