No stranger to Bluesdoodles (his last two albums are available via the search facility), Tomislav Goluban has just released his twelfth album – Express Connection. In case you haven’t come across him yet, despite Bluesdoodles reviewing Memphis Light and Chicago Rambler – here’s a thumbnail sketch: Europe has long been a hotbed for the blues and m- any fine releases have come from across the continent, proving that the Brits and Americans aren’t the only ones to understand and appreciate this rewarding genre.
His instrument of choice is the harmonica and this Croatian born musician cites Sonny Boy Williamson, Paul Butterfield, Sonny Terry and Gary Primich amongst others as his inspiration. He is no slouch in other areas either; Goluban has also founded a blues festival in his hometown, educates students with a “Blues in The Schools” program, and hosts his own radio show….a busy-man indeed! His surname apparently translates as ‘Pigeon’, which accounts for the titles of 2005 debut, Pigeon’s Flight.
This latest album is ten tracks of harp led country blues, and over the nine originals and a Lou Reed cover, we once again get the quality of the ‘Little Pigeon’s’ harp playing with the equally powerful backing of some very talented musicians…including the vocal talents of the lovely Kelly Zirbes.
Opening with the title track, Express Connection, we are carried full tilt into an instrumental that rocks with an engaging rock ’n’ roll riff with Tomislav’s trademark, melodic harp skills overlaying the clever piano, guitar, bass and drums. Used To Be Someone is slower, familiar blues with horns and tasty guitar phrasing behind the gritty vocals…the wry lyrics are worth noting too.
Babe On The Run is a bouncing blues with a good harp solo but it is the guitar outro that caught my attention the most.
Lou Reed’s song, Pale Blue Eyes, gets a sympathetic cover as the pace, the vocal intonations echo the languid wit that Reed always employed, even though this Velvet’s song is a little more countrified: the slide guitar gives an extra depth and, to me, appeal. The harp, slide and keyboard solos make the eight minute running time bearable and justified.
Shoestring Blues gives lead vocal duties to Kelly Zirbes and, no surprise to me, she does a cracking job and gives the song a welcome extra dimension: the piano solo is short and sweet, while the harp is subtly in support of the vocals and its solo plays cleverly with the melodies before the slide gives a pedal steel sounding phrase or two.
The pace moves to the shuffle characteristic of Chicago; Extra Boom is an instrumental tribute to Little Walter and his Chess Records home. Bearing in mind the harp was, in Little Walter’s hands, a magical extension to his breathing and the way Tomislav pays homage is sensitive, sensible and damn good – the keys and guitar also shine.
Seeds In The Bag sees Kelly join in on a duet over a piano led blues that is just great: listen to every aspect as the snare work is subtle but so clever, the bass is low but precise and the guitar phrases light it all up. Needless to say the harp solo is excellent…I wish more blues harpists could show such restraint while displaying so much expression. By the way, I think the lyrics continue the use of the double entendre in the blues to great effect as fruit takes on a new meaning! (In my mind anyway; if I’m wrong and it’s just my mucky mind, I apologise even as I smile my through the song.)
Bite Me Like A Snake is next and has more witty lyrics over a country blues that is immediate and captures you with the rhythms. The (too) short keys and guitar solo make it even better. The next song is a lot more lyrically serious as social injustice is addressed on No Future In Your Past. The opening harp phrases have to be heard to be believed…not many players use (or can use) such a melodious lower range. Horns fill out the sound before we get to the solos: one from Tomislav and a rousing piano from Rick Staff which both rescue a song that was on a one way street and make it more than worthy.
The final track, Beast Walk, is an instrumental with a lilt and first harp, then keys, then guitar make this an absolute delight as all of the players pull the harmonies into their soling while keeping them dynamic…especially the far too short slide section. It is a lovely finish to an album of typical quality and variation from Mr Goluban.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – A Wonderful album of quality, varied blues that is filled but not swamped by Tomislav’s masterful harp.
2. Used To Be Someone
3. Babe On The Run
4. Pale Blue Eyes
5. Shoestring Blues
6. Extra Boom
7. Seeds In The Bag
8 Bite Me Like A Snake
9. No Future In Your Past
10. Beast Walk
All songs by Tomislav Goluban except Pale Blue Eyes by Lou Reed
Tomislav Goluban: vocals (except No. 5) & harmonicas
Jeff Jensen: guitars
David Green: drums
Rick Steff: keys
Bill Ruffino: bass
Mark Johnson: slide guitar (4,5,7,8,10) & guitar (2)
Kirk Smothers: saxophone (2,9,10)
Marc Franklin: trumpet (2,9,10)
Joseph Franher backing vocals (8)
Kelly Zirbes: vocals (5,7), backing vocals (2,4,8,9)
Recorded in Memphis, TN USA at Ardent Studios, January 24th & 25th, 2019 & January 27th & 28th, 2020
Produced by Jeff Jensen & Tomislav Goluban
(iTunes took me back to the tortured but wonderful vocals of Tommy Johnson on the track Cool Drink of Water Blues from 1928; neat guitar figures throughout make this a delight…I found this on a varied and wonderful compilation called Broke, Black and Blue.)