The blues, restricted to a twelve-bar format, can be awfully formulaic and uninspired in the hands of the unimaginative. That’s definitely not the case here, though, as guitarist Riley and harmonica player Bob Corritore bring joyous enthusiasm and serious chops to a collection of hard-core yet fresh-sounding tracks fairly bursting with life.
Both Riley and Corritore bring solid credentials to the table. Born in Mississippi, Riley moved to Chicago in his early teens – a pretty standard migration pattern for bluesmen. He honed his chops in military bands before returning to his roots after meeting Sam Carr, Frank Frost, and John Weston, better known as delta legends The Jelly Roll Kings. Corritore grew up in the Windy City before establishing himself as a one-man blues preservation society in Phoenix, where he’s run the famed Rhythm Room for years while contributing harp to well over thirty recordings.
Lucky To Be Living is Riley and Corritore’s second outing, a fine follow-up to 2007’s Travelin’ The Dirt Road. There’s a full backing band on most tracks, with instrumental contributions from the likes of legendary pianist Henry Gray, bassists Dave ‘Yahni’ Riley Jr. (yes, he’s the elder Riley’s son) and Patrick Ryan, while three drummers take turns behind the kit. But while the grooves are both deep and lively, it’s the intuitive interplay between the co-leaders that’s absolutely revelatory.
Riley wrote four of the tunes and adapted another four by the aforementioned Frost. His guitar work is fleet, and his gruffly assertive vocals are supremely confident and thoroughly authoritative. And Corritore’s harmonica is nothing short of brilliant. A limited instrument by definition, Corritore coaxes an astonishing array of howls and growls from the tiny tin sandwich, mirroring and compliment melodic and vocal lines to dazzling effect. It’s obviously apparent on the two duo tracks – the driving “Country Rules” and the deep, dark “Sharecropper Blues” (written by Weston), a stark canvas that gives Corritore lots of room to show how the harmonica, the only instrument in Western music that permits both blowing and drawing air, is arguably also the closest to the cry of the human voice.
Band members are all old hands, providing easy-going backing, shuffling with unhurried ease through unobtrusive arrangements that put voice and harp front and centre. Everything’s well within twelve-bar convention, yet there’s both obvious love for and a profound understanding of the blues and it’s emotional impact on display here. No one overplays, relying on taste and tone to get the message across, yet each tune is brimming with the sheer joy of making music. Fun is a palpable presence.
When they’re played as well as this, with this much energy and imagination, the blues really are a timeless musical form. Lucky To Be Living is an instant classic … very highly recommended!