When I moved to France I said an emotional goodbye to all my sleazy old music haunts of London town. What I didn’t expect was to find the heart of Mississippi blues on my new doorstep. God bless The Harpsliders.
When their third album Don’t Buy Brand New Guitars (Blues Box Association) arrived on that same doorstep I immediately took them to my heart. What was obvious is that the sentiment expressed in the album's title is the very essence behind their motivation.
So why not buy a new guitar? The Harpsliders answer is quite simple. It’s because a new guitar just doesn’t have any soul.
It’s soul that this band has aplenty. That, and a love, understanding, and passion for all things blues. Their god is Charley Patton and the album opens with an excellent tribute to the great man, “Charley Patton’s Ghost”. It is written by the multi-gifted Manu Slide who sings, plays guitar, ukulele, mandolin, harmonica, kazoo, bass, and writes most of the music.
The track, and therefore the album, opens with a crackly 1934 radio broadcast announcing Charley’s death. It’s a great way to create an instant atmosphere but, of course, it would fall a bit flat if the band couldn’t play the blues.
The tracks that Manu Slide has written on this album are really impressive. Papy Washboard, yep he’s the washboard player, also adds a track to the fourteen song album. Included in the mix are covers of Jimmy Reed’s “Can’t Stand To See You Go”, the Son House song “Grinnin’ In Your Face”, and Muddy Waters’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.
It’s also great to see a cover of the overlooked legend that was Geeshie Wiley. Her “Last Kind Words”, originally recorded in 1930, is a genuine piece of blues tradition brought back to life all the way over in French France.
That is what makes the blues of course. It travels not only geographically but through its timeless connection with your musical heartbeat. It is irrelevant where it appears and who does it, just as long as they feel it.
To complete the set, amid eight Manu originals, is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Mister Banker” written by Ronnie Van Zandt and Gary Rossington. It is a nice balance of a very well put together album that will please any lover of the blues.
Manu can also write a mean tune and “Charley Patton’s Ghost” is right up there with the best on this album. I dream of being able to play the slide and if anything is guaranteed to stop me in my tracks it is this seductive sound. Manu has it on tap.
His other songs include a heartfelt “Old River” delivered with that big heart of the Mississippi delta. “Daddy’s 57 Slide” follows nicely and is awash with more classy guitar work. “No Bluesman” picks up the pace with a footstomping railroad blues number.
“Farka”, dedicated to the late Ali Farka Toure, but in French, is a delight. “Cassel City Blues”, Cassel being the town in Northern France that The Harpsliders come from, even opens with the line ‘I woke up this morning’. The slow sleazy blues of “Computer Crime”, and “La Couleur De Ma Biere”, also sung in French, both work well.
Meanwhile Papy Washboard’s fine blues workout “Rainbow” ends the album. It is another trip down to the land of the jug band.
I know that I will be seeing a lot of these guys in the blues festivals of northern France (Cassel March 7-14 for starters). If you can’t join me, then you might want to grab a copy of the album. It will warm your soul, confirm the music's timelessness, and convince you never to buy a new guitar.
The Harpsliders can be seen and heard on their MySpace page.