Big Harp George
Cut My Spirit Loose
San Francisco blues singer, songwriter and chromatic harmonica player Big Harp George/George Bisharat returns with his fifth album, Cut My Spirit Loose. He features a cast of elite players, including guitarist Kid Andersen, Joe Kyle Jr. on bass, drummers June Core and Derrick D’Mar Martin, with Chris Burns on keys, along with a bevy of horn players and vocalists along with the Sons of the Soul Revivers (James, Dwayne, and Walter Morgan). Tenor saxophonist Michael Peloquin and trombonist Mike Rinta play on all tracks, sometimes choosing a different instrument. Yes, he’s drawing on the folks that often record at Andersen’s Greaseland Studios and for Little Village. The wide ranging collection covers the gamut of blues and jazz styles and even includes a Beatles song (the only cover) while still infusing his own material with wit and sarcasm as a commentary on our current times. Because he has one of the more interesting backgrounds on the blues scene, he is more qualified to deliver such. Before prioritizing music, George was a criminal defense attorney, award-winning professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law, and expert commentator on law and politics in the Middle East.
Big Harp George opens with the raucous singalong, “It’s Tuesday,” in the kind of tune you’d expect from a vocal ensemble like Manhattan Transfer, with his harp swinging along with his lyrics about our struggles navigating the pandemic. The horns propel the shuffling “Pile Driving Sam,” as Burns pounds the keys barrelhouse style and Kid Andersen slashes through the big wall of sound with a piercing guitar solo. The string master shifts to banjo for the vintage swinging “Give Me the Dark” with the leader on his big harp as a lead horn player, likely a trumpet in a different arrangement. The big harp leads the instrumental NOLA styled “Bustin’ Out” and the band continues the dancing groove with a Latin boogaloo arrangement of one of Lennon and McCartney’s oldest songs, “She’s A Woman,” circa 1964. It’s impressive how Burns on the B3 and Big George carry the melody in unison. Lulu Bisharat makes an hilarious cameo, barking back during the jump blues “My Dog Is Better Than You,” one that features a gutty tenor solo from Peloquin and Andersen’s fiery licks. George and the band can’t resist another rollicking instrumental, “Jump Abu Lula!”
After so much fun, George breaks into some commentary, first poking fun at the upper crust with Burns’ piano and blaring horns driving “Prince Of Downward Mobility,” before offering an acidic response to a conspiracy spreader on “Ranty Town.” The slow blues finally arrives with “Behind The Eight Ball,” with the protagonist lamenting a series of troubles in true blues fashion with the harp and piano leading the way as the horns fortify the low end. The Delta blues , interestingly without guitar, colors the work song “Take A Knee,” addresses hypocrisy and the ridiculous woke debate with the Soul Revivers emphasizing George’s points on each chorus.. The smooth instrumental “Sunrise Stroll” is the prime example of George’s command of the chromatic harmonica and plays as a jazz track with Peloquin on baritone sax, Mike Rinta on trombone and Andersen on lead guitar all stretching out. The expansive narrative “Captain Jack” recounts the tragedy of Kintpuash, aka Captain Jack the chief of the Modoc people, to whom the album is dedicated. This final track is some interesting instrumental twists with Ben Torres on flute, Peloquin on the bari sax, Rinta on tuba, and Andersen on vibraphone. Once again, as they’ve done on eight tracks, the Sons of the Soul Revivers pitch in, delivering rather haunting harmonies on this one.
Big Harp George is an astute bandleader and solid songwriter. What he lacks in vocal prowess is effectively masked by the huge sound emanating from the horns and background vocalists, collectively numbering seventeen in the credits. Fans that love horn albums and especially jump blues should not miss this one!
- Jim Hynes
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