Various Artists: Inspiration: 22 Great Harmonica Performances (2003)
When I first got Inspiration I thought it would be one of those boring novelty records. Besides, who but a confirmed harmonicat would enjoy over 72 solid minutes of harp music? Spinning the first two tracks, I was startled by the segue: Toots Thielemans jazzily interpeting Eric Satie in the familiar "Gymnopedie," followed by some yee-hah whooping by Sonny Terry on "Lost John." I thought, "What market is this one for?", shook my head, and continued doing some filing in my office.
I left the CD on, and as it continued through its 22 tracks - careening from jazz to gut-bucket blues to rock, folk, pop, Argentinian tango and Irish reels - it started to grow on me. What an intriguing range of sound, mood, and geography, that harmonica. It has a broad range of chronology and interpreters, too, including Stevie Wonder doing "Alfie," Larry Adler and Django on "Body and Soul," and Magic Dick and the J. Geils Band on "Whammer Jammer." There's also a train (not Trane) imitation, something jolly that sounds like the soundtrack to a "Little Rascals" episode, and the ultimate romantic harmonica anthem, "Paris Skies." Once you get used to the concept, it's a very well-paced and pleasing musical mix.
So I hit "replay" and picked up the thick CD booklet that explains the instrument's history and each artist's contribution to it. This project was clearly a labor of love for someone - J. J. Milteau, to be exact - who invested a great deal of care and imagination. It's also entertaining, educational, and musically delightful.
Kudos to Sunnyside, perhaps the only non-indie label that would dare put out something so bold and varied. I wish them luck with it. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to hit "replay" again.
Track Listing: Gymnopedie, Lost John, Tour de Taille, Alfie, Christine, La Companera, Voice, Freight Train Blues, Trust My Baby, Sous le Ciel de Paris, Whammer Jammer, The Ballygow Reel and the Trip to Cullenstown, Moody, You Don't Have to Go, On the Loose, Mellow Man, Orange Blossom Special, Intro, My Drivin' Wheel, That's It, Body and Soul, Ice Water Blues
Personnel: Toots Thielemans, Sonny Terry, Mark Graham, Stevie Wonder, Big Walter Horton, Hugo Diaz, Michel Herblin, Jimmie Riddle (with Roy Acuff), Sonny Boy Williamson, Olivier Ker Ourio, Magic Dick (with the J. Geils Band), Phil, John, & Pip Murphy, Greg Szlapczynski, James Cotton (with Muddy Waters), Borrah Minevitch & the Rascals, Thierry Crommen, Charlie McCoy, Eric Chafer, Robert Lee McCoy (with Lee Brown), Little Walter, Larry Adler, Deford Bailey