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Baby, when I die, put daddy's picture in a frame.... So when daddy's gone you can see him just the same - Papa Harvey Hull & Long Cleve Reed, France Blues

Author Topic: Big Al Calhoun--Harmonica Blues with Henry Townsend Arcola CD A CD 1003  (Read 2401 times)

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Offline Johnm

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PROGRAM:  Black Panther; Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; Al's Boogie-Woogie; Buy Me An Airplane; Shake Your Boogie; Medley:  It's Too Late Brother/My Babe; That's All Right; Betty Lou; Can't You See; Love Was In Our Hearts; Wake up Old Maid; Tears Come Rollin' Down; Tin Pan Alley; Old Story Blues

This CD, recorded on August 29, 1979, pairs up the St. Louis-based and Mississippi-born (1930) harmonica player, Big Al Calhoun, and a Country Blues legend, guitarist Henry Townsend, with the duo being joined on several numbers by Henry's late wife, Vernell, on vocals.  The speed with which it was recorded shows up, in an unflattering way, on a number of cuts. 
The first seven numbers of the program feature Al in a leader role, singing and leading the duo from the harmonica.  He comes across as a good singer and strong, though not particularly distinctive, harmonica player.  The stylistic generation gap between Al and Henry shows up most strongly in this portion of the program.  Al is performing a repertoire and playing in a style that presumes a backing ensemble, not a single guitarist.  Henry sounds unfamiliar with the material--"Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" starts tentatively, takes a while to find itself, shows disagreements as to where the chord changes fall, and is pretty weak in general.  "Al's Boogie-Woogie" and the medley of "It's Too Late Brother/My Babe" similarly show lack of togetherness as to when to hit the chord changes.  "Buy Me an Airplane" has an excellent vocal, but a weak ending.  "Shake Your Boogie" has my favorite harmonica-playing in this part of the program, and is a strong cut from beginning to end.  "That's All Right" has excellent harp and a really good vocal.
Things improve immediately with cut 8, "Betty Lou", at which point Henry takes over the vocal lead and leadership of the duo.  It is immediately apparent that Henry is in exceptionally good voice, and is much more comfortable leading the duo rather than seconding, and that Al, while not taking up the kind of solo space he did on the numbers he sang lead on, is perfectly comfortable playing fills behind Henry.  Vernell Townsend sings "Can't You See" with Henry, and they sound really great together.  Henry sings "Love Was In Our Hearts", which falls into the under-populated category of Romantic Blues, beautifully.  Vernell, who had a regal presence some of you may remember from the first Port Townsend Blues Festival, does a magnificent job on the vocals of the frank "Wake up, Old Maid" and "Tin Pan Alley", and Henry closes out the program with "Old Story Blues".
I think Al Calhoun has a lot to offer and I hope that he gets a chance to record with a full backing ensemble of drums, electric bass, a couple of electric guitars and keyboards.  I believe it would show his musical gifts to better advantage than this CD does.


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