Chicago born Russ Green took up the ‘blues harp’ out of a mixture of a student’s income (or lack thereof), listening to Hendrix and a legendary harp player known as Sugar Blue. He wanted to be a guitar player but, as he was studying film at Southern Illinois University, he could only afford a harmonica. He started to experiment in emulating his hero, Jimi Hendrix on the harp with a degree of success but the ‘light bulb moment’ came when he first witnessed Sugar Blue in a live setting. Here was a man doing just what he was setting out to do himself: Blue was often introduced to the stage with the acclamation, “the Charlie Parker of the harmonica and the Jimi Hendrix of the blues harp”. After concentrating on his film and TV production (he was involved with many household names and even joined fellow harmonica player Bruce Willis on stage…if you like soul, then do check out Bruce’s album, The Return of Bruno, it is surprisingly quite good!) he began playing on the live scene and also moved into music production too. Now he has at last recorded his own album, Soul City, which is his take on all that is good and bad in the beloved city of his birth.
Opening track, First Thing Smokin’ is a rocking start with slide guitar and Green showing what a harp can do. Hints of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker emerge as the song progresses and we learn that Russ has a voice of quality and tone. The keys are well in the background but are still an important part of this toe-tapper; as is the solo which uses the harp in a creative, non ‘huh,huh’ way…if you know what I mean! The pace slows for the bare, basic blues of Believe In Love, with a heartfelt harp intro before Green’s voice evokes some of the best soul singers of the 60s. The B3 runs make this special, and could well grace any Santana album. Hendrix influences appear on The Edge as he actually makes the harp sound as if it had a fretboard. This is a funk based, blues workout that doesn’t feel like an 8 minute plus epic that, if you imagine the harp is a guitar, and it is not that difficult, is a psychedelic work out that evokes Cream and Hendrix. The backing guitar is the right side of perfect as it supports Russ and that formidable harp. The bass and drums do likewise, especially in the bridge at the 5:30 mark, when it all quietens just a little bit. Going Down South was co-written with Eric Bibb, and he appears on it too, lending his skilful guitar to a delta blues duet with Green. It starts off with a ‘stomp’ feeling (although it clever drum and bass work that fools you) and lifts into a full-blown electric delta courtesy of simply superb rhythm slide from Bibb and then, surprisingly perhaps, we are treated to such an understated yet brilliant acoustic solo (too short). Lover Man is quality Chicago blues with the harp and the Hammond competing for attention as the funk struts out across the song. Train Of Pain leaves a standard platform behind (sorry!) as Russ combines blues with funk and soul while the guitar patterns are definitely of the rock variety. This blend could be a stretch too far, but here (after a bluesy bass opening) it actually gels. The lyrics address a less than palatable subject, covering abuse, poverty and addiction. There’s a New Orleans feel to Up From The Bottom with staccato, picked guitar and lovely bass and drums and it does have a familiarity that will have you searching the dusty recesses…more than one correct answer is available. The soulful blues of Lint In My Pocket is the only slightly disjointed track…it is bit ‘piecemeal’ in its construction, although the harp and guitar continue to entertain. Chicago Blues influences show themselves again as Something New benefits from Agwada’s slide. The B3 warms it all up before the trademark harp solo. The funky Love To Give is back to disco but with a bit of weight and, of course, the blues harp. The standout on this is the superb bass by Marvin Little; the tone and feel are brilliant and is worth adjusting the settings on the hi-fi to get the best out of it.
If you love the blues harp, you will love this accomplished exponent of a difficult instrument. Every track is built around his warm voice and searing harmonica although, for me, it would have benefited the overall sound to hear more of Corey and Agwada. They are certainly great guitarists but didn’t have enough room to truly shine, which I’m convinced they could and would have. Harp lover or not, this is a solid and enjoyable album with only one (very) slightly weak entry. Give it a listen or three and you will enjoy it too.
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
- First Thing Smokin’
- Believe in Love
- The Edge
- Going Down South (Feat Eric Bibb)
- Lover Man
- Train of Pain
- Up From The Bottom
- Lint in my Pocket
- Somethin’ New
- Love To Give
Russ Green – Vocals, Harmonica
Giles Corey – Guitar
Marvin Little – Bass
Vince Agwada – Slide Guitar
Joe Munroe – Hammond B3
Eric Bibb – Vocals and Acoustic Guitar (track5)
All songs were written by Russ Green – except Going Down South with Eric Bibb
Produced by Russ Green and Sam Clayton
Recorded, Mixed & Mastered by Rick Barnes Rax Trax Chicago IL