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James Harman: Takin’ Chances

A similar triple-threat is the California-based singer-songwriter-harmonica player James Harman. On his Takin’ Chances (Cannonball 29107; 59:57) Harman blows and sings with authority, supported by a rotating cast of characters. Electric slide guitarist Bob Margolin adds an authentic touch on the sparse, Muddy Waters-ish “Gamblin’ Blues,” accompanied only by Harman’s rough vocals and Paul Fasulo’s bass drum. Guitarist Junior Watson stings on the horn-driven shuffle “Somebody (Th’owd Bad Luck On Me)” while Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Kid Ramos cranks up the echo for good effect on the N’awlins rumba boogie opener, “Modern Numbers Game.” Fasulo’s second line rhythm and Thomas Mahorn’s rollicking Fess-styled piano work underscore the festive street parade vibe of the aptly-named “Frolictime,” an authentic Mardi Gras party number augmented by a loosely arranged four-piece horn section, miscellaneous percussion and whistles. Robby Eason’s echo-soaked Silvertone guitar lends an eerie quality to another sparse, Muddy-flavored Harman original, “Old Man Eyes.” “Crapshoot” is a classic winehead blues sparked by Harman’s raucous harp work and pianist Mahon is featured on the infectious boogie woogie “Let It Ride.” Harman’s showman tendencies are prominent on the rowdy shuffle “Read My Mind” and he dips into serious Howlin’ Wolf mode on the menacing title track.

Harman may not possess the slick set of pipes that Tad Robinson does. But judging by the kitsch shirts, sunglasses, fedora and demented grin pictured on the cover of this CD (along with the relentlessly goodtime nature of his grooves) he appears to be the bigger party animal. I’m guessing he’d be more fun to catch live.

Originally Published