(c) 2007 Blues-Finland.com
|Better Than In Tune
9 May 2007
Let's start with a warning: on the back of the "Searching for Odell Harris" CD, Lightnin' Malcolm is quoted as saying "Some of it wasn't even in tune, but it was, like, better than in tune." Ain't no arguing with that—so proceed with caution, and only if you think you can handle raw, driving, drunken Mississippi Hill Country Blues.
The CD starts off with a version of "Train I Ride", a.k.a. "Mystery Train", "Mean Old Train", etc. That was the first I heard of Odell Harris—once upon a time on the internet. And it was quite a shock: Odell Harris certainly isn't Junior Parker, or Elvis, or Papa Lightfoot. Based on his vocals, one might assume he's never even heard of those people!
|And that's the trick—although touted as a close friend of both RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, Mr. Harris is clearly his own man. The second time I heard the song, there wasn't a doubt in my mind I was listening to one the best blues recordings to come out of the American South in this century.
Track two: "Before You Accuse Me". While just as likely to shock Clapton fans, this rendition is actually considerably more in tune than Bo Diddley's famed original, but not enough to hurt. Next up is a Harris original, the footstomping instrumental "Daylight Romp", followed by another classic, a sparse ".44 Blues".
When reviewing Jimmy "Duck" Holmes' "Back To Bentonia" for Bluesinlondon.com last year, I wrote about Duck's version of "Vicksburg Blues": "I seem to recall that at one time, this traditional Mississippi piano riff used to be known as both "Forty Four Blues" & "Vicksburg Blues", depending on who was claiming to have written it." Nice to be right every once in a while, and it's certainly a cool enough riff to adorn all Broke & Hungry Records releases.
Then we get Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson's "On Your Way Fishing", Jimmy Reed's "Can't Stand To See You Go", and Junior Kimbrough's "All Night Long"—if it wasn't for the lyrics, these could easily be Harris originals. The same goes for the "traditionals" that follow: "Someday Baby" (a.k.a. "Trouble No More"), "Sitting On Top Of the World", and "Early One Morning"—or was it "Oo Wee Baby"? Who cares, the joint is jumping, the band is rocking, and those of you who think guitars need to be in tune to sound good have probably deserted us by now anyway!
Two more tracks to go: another original instrumental, "Hill Funk", that has no problem living up to its title, and the almost acoustic closer, "Laughing To Keep From Crying". Ironically, the line "you don't know my mind" could easily have been directed at Jeff Konkel, the producer of this record—according to legend, he only saw and heard Odell Harris once, on the night this album was recorded, and was surprised even then that the ever-evasive Harris bothered to show up.
Plus, the session never went that smoothly. In addition to a loud and uncooperative audience ("car keys were dropped, chairs clattered and drunken voices chattered on"), Konkel had to deal with Odell. In the liner notes he writes: "As for Odell—well, he's not a man who takes instruction well. Simple requests like, "Try singing into the microphone," or, "Stop talking shit about everybody in the middle of a take," were met with bemused smirks."
Nevertheless—or maybe exactly because of this—the disc that arose out of Konkel's troubles is staggering. The blues doesn't get any more real than this.
Odell Harris: Searching For Odell Harris. Broke & Hungry Records, 2006
Odell Harris (guitar, vocals), Bill Abel (guitar), Lightnin' Malcolm (bass, drums)
Producer: Jeff Konkel
Linkit: Broke and Hungry Records, Broke and Hungry Records MySpace, Jeff Konkel interview