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Joel Harrison: Mother Stump

Troy Collins By

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Guitarist and composer Joel Harrison is well-known for creative cross-cultural collaborations and unique arrangements of works by influential musicians like George Harrison and Paul Motian. A magnanimous bandleader, Harrison rarely dominates his own recording projects, typically soloing with lyrical economy in lieu of pyrotechnic excess. Mother Stump focuses on this underplayed aspect of Harrison's abilities, spotlighting his improvisational prowess on a hand-picked selection of beloved cover tunes and a pair of evocative originals.

Inspired in part by the popular music he heard growing up in Washington D.C., the session's varied track list reflects the pan-stylistic diversity Harrison was exposed to in his formative years. Everything from bluegrass, country, funk and soul to rock and jazz was performed in local D.C. venues during his youth. Enamored of hometown guitarist Danny Gatton's all-inclusive concepts, Harrison embarked on a similarly eclectic path, with the blues a common denominator unifying his diverse interests. Unsurprisingly, the blues also serves as an aesthetic thread uniting disparate song styles throughout this date.

Ably supported by bassist Michael Bates and drummer Jeremy Clemons (with occasional assistance from keyboardist Glenn Patscha), Harrison takes the lead with sinuous lines pitched between expressive dissonances and melodious sustain. He delves into EFX-laden psychedelia on Motian's "Folk Song For Rosie," plays rustic slide on Buddy Miller's "Wide River To Cross," and demonstrates his dexterity in a bracing rendition of George Russell's bop masterpiece "Stratusphunk." Providing contrast to the program's predominantly bluesy demeanor, Harrison elicits a heartfelt reading of Leonard Cohen's tender folk ballad "Suzanne" on baritone guitar, and waxes romantic on Luther Vandross' soulful "Dance With My Father Again."

Harrison allows his sidemen ample time in the spotlight, but the bulk of the proceedings are focused on the leader's inspired fretwork. A multi-talented artist deserving greater recognition for his numerous efforts, Harrison parlays his sophisticated composing and arranging abilities into epic solos on Mother Stump, using his favorite vintage gear to convey the sort of emotions words often fail to express.

Track Listing: John the Revelator; Folk Song For Rosie; Wide River To Cross; Refuge; Do You Remember Big Mama Thornton?; I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know; Stratusphunk; Folk Song For Rosie (a slight return); Suzanne; Dance With My Father Again; Wide River To Cross (Part 2).

Personnel: Joel Harrison: guitars; Michael Bates: bass; Jeremy Clemons: drums; Glenn Patscha: Fender Rhodes piano, Hammond B3 organ, Wurlitzer piano (3-6, 9, 11).

Title: Mother Stump | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records


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