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The Harmonicats

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Album Review

This is a compact disc reissue of the Harmonicats' first album, issued in the early '50s on the now-defunct RKO label and culled from various 78s the group recorded in the late '40s and early '50s for the even more defunct Vita label. It was on the tiny Chicago label that the Harmonicats came to national attention in the postwar era with their hit version of "Peg o' My Heart," their signature tune. The 13 tracks presented on this straight-up reissue are built on the sturdy commercial frame of that seminal hit, with Jerry Murad's lead chromatic harmonica stating the melody while Al Fiore provides the solid chording and Don Les plays the bass runs and solo passages, all heard to great effect on "Valse Bluette," "Rhapsody Boogie," and "You Are Always in My Heart." Murad, in particular, is highlighted on "Dance of the Comedians" and "Cat's Blues," both good showcases for his upper-range flights of fancy. Sticking very close to their "live sound," the Harmonicats' group blend is just barely embellished on these sides with a smattering of electric guitar and the occasional string bass providing support. The sound of the old Vita masters, using then-state-of-the-art live echo in spots to bottom-of-the-well dramatic effect, does give these tracks a somewhat muffled and raggedy sound (they were probably dubbed from 78 discs to make the original album), but the solid performances of "Tea for Two," "Peggy O'Neil," "September Song," "Ritual Fire Dance," Wayne King's "Dardanella," and "Fantasie Impromptu" make this long missing-in-action album well worthy of reissue.


Formed: 1946 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '50s

A harmonica trio with Jerry Murad on lead, Al Fiore on chording, and Don Les on bass, the Harmonicats had a massive number one hit in 1947 with "Peg O' My Heart," and remained popular through the 1950s, even getting a Top 20 album (Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White) as late as 1961. Applying their harmonica arrangements mostly to popular standards, their sound was unusual for that (or indeed any) era, achieving a full ensemble effect via instruments that are rarely used in tandem in popular music....
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The Harmonicats, Harmonicats
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