Despite its vast emotional tapestry, blues can be a stifling form in the absence of individuality. James Harman has personality aplenty, amply displayed in every note he plays and in every story he tells.
Harman wields a killer harmonica and sings with a seasoned, good ‘ol boy drawl. But what truly sets him apart are his songs, a series of stories and vignettes delivered in true raconteur fashion by one of the blues’ most charismatic characters.
Do Not Disturb, originally released in 1991, was Harman’s debut for the late, lamented Black Top label, here re-issued (with one bonus track) by Hep Cat Records. Harman was working with a new band at the time, though you’d never know it – guitarist Joel Foy, bassist Jeff Turmes, and drummer Steve Mugalian positively rip through a set that covers pretty well all the blues bases.
Harman favors discs with a theme, and Do Not Disturb is no exception – opening with a monologue in which he’s rudely awakened by motel staff, he proceeds to chronicle the trials and tribulations of a travelling bluesman with tongue firmly in cheek and an ever-present sly grin. The trip includes sweaty, swampy grooves (the title track and “Swampnight”), a Cajun two-step (“Icepick’s Advice” – Icepick is Harman’s nickname) a driving harmonica boogie (“Wake Up Call”), an easy-going, horn-fuelled shuffle (“Rags To Riches”), a deep, world o’ woe twelve-bar (“Phonebill Blues”) with several other stops along the way. The bonus track, “I’ve Got News,” is a grinder that was previously only available on a relatively obscure collection; it’s not thematically consistent but it’s a worthy addition indeed.
The remastered sound features noticeably better definition, but Black Top’s recordings were always great to begin with, with enough dirt left in to keep things appropriately raw and real. Kudos to Hep Cat for re-issuing some of the best blues to come out during the 90’s.
This stuff is absolutely essential …!