Errol Linton Packing My Bags Full of Harmonicas

Errol Linton was born and raised in Brixton and lives there still. His father came to the UK in 1959 from Jamaica and Errol’s first taste in music came from him…that included old ska records and Johnny Nash, amongst others. Inevitably in Brixton, he was also exposed to reggae, rock and punk. Church attendance meant he found gospel and the blues arrived courtesy of a cassette from a friend in college with Hooker, Waters and others, meaning he never looked back. This eclecticism expanded further after he got his first harmonica and started to hear how effective it was in all genres. The real moment of realisation of the power and emotive abilities of the harp came, as it did for many when he heard Sonny Boy Williamson II.

As his peers were into other kinds of music, Errol took to busking to express his love of the blues. It was while he was busking in Victoria Station that the famed BBC producer John Walters identified him as a serious talent. That meeting has led to many appearances on radio and TV and, as his profile rose, so too did the accolades…he has won the Best Harmonica Player of the Year at the British Blues Awards three times. If that wasn’t enough, he is also quite an artist (of the painting variety) too with some excellent portraits of blues and jazz greats as well as numerous other subjects, already committed to canvas. This latest release, Packing My Bags is his fifth and shows how his sound and composition has developed into a startling talent that effortlessly mixes the sounds of his youth with the true blues of the masters.

Make no mistake, this is a harp album first and foremost with six original compositions and three covers…the band does contribute very effectively and make this album even more of a standout.

It opens with a cover of Snooky Pryor’s Break ‘Em On Down where Errol displays his skills on the harp and backs it all up with a warm vocal rendition of this classic. We also get a refreshing, short and full-scale (in every sense of the word) guitar solo too. Got Me Runnin’ is an original and is a sort of jump blues come 60s R’n’B and reminds me, fondly, of Canned Heat. Love Is Strong is a rapid shuffle with a superb bass and drum backline this grounds the whole thing and an imaginative and ‘in period’ guitar solo that pulls the track into a cohesive blues number of quality. Billy Boy Arnold gets the Linton treatment next with the fabulous Wish You Would. They do it justice too with the harp playing at its expressive best while the band kick up a storm behind it and illustrate perfectly why this was such a seminal song. Junior Wells was also responsible for one of the truly classic blues tunes…Hoodoo Man in the hands of these guys becomes a fine tribute with the harp playing a genuine homage without just reproducing Junior’s notes. Once again the band, and on this one, the piano, are just sublime in their subtle backing, thus making the song rise above many other covers of this great song. The guitar solo has my favourite kind of playing…one note can say so much, so don’t spoil it by overdoing it. Adam Blake does just that here to stunning effect. Title track, Packing My Bags, really shows Errol’s reggae roots but blended with a blues shuffle and, yes, it works very well as the two styles almost compete but then seem to decide they can play together effectively…and then why not shove in a barrelhouse piano and harp solo to really mix it up?  The reggae feel is to the fore on Drink Up Your Last Dollar too; it is a drinking song that is well executed but is a little out of place to my way of thinking, although you will be drawn in by the beat before its over. 3.44 In The Morning is a highlight as funk enters the fray and the bass and vocal interplay is brilliant. To use a cringe-worthy bit of press-speak, it is a perfect example of ‘contemporary urban blues’ but it is better than that sounds as it avoids the usual clichés. Final track, Through My Veins, is a ballad of sorts with Errol evoking thoughts of Nick Drake with his vocal delivery. The guitar tone is warm, the piano illuminates and the bass and drums brush and stroke the background to create a lush country-tinged blues ballad.

All in all, this is a superb album of harp led blues with players of such skill that it is one you will return to time and again. OK, I will probably skip the drinking song but that is easily forgiven with the rest of the album packed full of quality and, above all, absorbing enjoyable blues.

NINEpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing:

  1. Break ‘Em On Down
  2. Got Me Runnin’
  3. Love Is Strong
  4. Wish You Would
  5. Hoodoo Man
  6. Packing My Bags
  7. Drink Your Last Dollar
  8. 3-44 In The Morning
  9. Through My Veins

Musicians:
Errol Linton: vocals, harmonica
Adam Blake: guitar
Lance Rose: bass
Petar Zivkovic: piano, keyboards
Kenrick Rowe: drums
Gary Williams: Drums

Produced by Petar Zivkovic

Errol Linton Packing My Bags Full of Harmonicas

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