How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Superharps is a fun release that brings together four veteran blues harpists: Billy Branch, James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite and Sugar Ray Norcia.
Except for one solo cut apiece by Norcia and Cotton and an overlong slow-blues jam that closes this CD, Telarc assigned these four harmonicats to various duo formats, thus giving each player ample room to maneuver. The pairings spur the artists to some creative instrumental exchanges and spirited vocal performances — even by Musselwhite, who’s never been known for his vocal dexterity.
Superharps' 11 tracks touch a wide range of blues styles, including acoustic ("If I Should Have Bad Luck" with Musselwhite and Cotton), swing ("Route 66" with Branch and Norcia’), Chicago-style electric ("I Put My Baby Out," again with Branch and Noricia), and boogie-woogie ("T.D.’s Boogie Woogie" with Cotton and Branch). Norcia’s smooth vocals and deft harp playing are most prominently featured, but all four players deliver the goods.
Lively backing is provided by some New England-based bluesmen, including three former members of Norcia’s old band Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, ace boogie pianist Dave Maxwell, and drummer Per Hanson. Norcia’s nasty original "I Put My Baby Out" and Musselwhite's rollicking "Blues, Why Do You Worry Me?" are two of the standout tracks.
Superharps is a diverse showcase for the instrument most often associated with the blues. And unlike many all-star releases, this one’s a true collaboration.