Harpdog Brown- For Love & Money review

Harpdog Brown For Love & Money DogHouse HarpdogBrown.com

A couple months back, blues evangelist Harpdog Brown released an energetic set of New Orleans-influenced jump blues, a true, authentic throwback to and of a previous generation’s music.

An outstanding blues harmonica player, Brown’s music has been heard on fine blues radio programs for years, and I recall catching a rather lively set in a long-forgotten Red Deer club a quarter-century or more ago.

That faded memory came exploding back from the get-go when For Love & Money blasted from the speakers this spring. Comprised of thirteen stellar performances, each engrained with a stout tradition found in the foundational sounds of the music—the delta, Chicago, Memphis, and jump, jive, and jazz—and produced by roots master Steve Dawson, the entire album sparkles with a sheen of dark indigo seldom encountered.

Recording in Vancouver, Brown and his compatriots—with a brass section and Dave Webb on keys including Hammond B3—have created an album that immediately impresses and maintains a high-bar of grittiness across its 55 minutes. Nothing minimalist here, these full-bore arrangements have a near ‘big band’ impact. Brown has a deep, raspy voice well-suited to his barrelhouse blues, and Dawson’s guitar efforts are essential.

A pair of Brown originals—the retro, pre-rock & roll-ish “Reefer Lovin’ Woman” and the candid “Stiff” (“I’m stiff in all the wrong places”)—fit alongside a selection of well-worn chestnuts. “Blue Light Boogie” and “The Comeback” help set the mood, while “Buzzard Luck” has the ensemble finding a groove, mining it for all it is worth.

Newer material from the likes of Brandon Isaak (“I’ll Make It Up To You”), Dave Webb (“For Love and Money”), and Mike Ross (“No Eyes for Me,” featuring psychedelic keys from Webb) elevate the album to ‘must have’ status. A pair from Wayne Berezan—“One Step Forward” and “A New Day is Dawning”—allow Brown and the band to explore additional textures. Trombonist Skye Lambourne contributes the album closing “Sasha’s Lullaby,” an interesting, mellow, and quite apt selection to take us into the night.

A collection more suited to drinkin’ than thinkin’ (yes, Amos Milburn’s boogie-woogie “Thinkin’ and Drinkin’” is included,) For Love & Money is a good-time bluesy blast of the past, one that will have you dancin’ round the room before you know it. With the loss of Dr. John last month, Harpdog Brown’s latest assures us that the sound will never falter.

(review based on provided CD)

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