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Old Friends

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Album Review

Baton Rouge harmonica wizard Raful Neal, influenced by fellow Louisiana harp man Little Walter and the laconic swamp blues sound of Slim Harpo, might have enjoyed more mass recognition had he left the region for Chicago and other points north like many of the area's other postwar blues players did, but he chose to stay in Louisiana and raise a family (several of his children ended up musicians, including his oldest son, Kenny Neal), and he recorded rather sparingly. This set, from 1998, is typical of his output, featuring slow burning ballads like his impressive version of Ted Taylor's "Someday" and stomping shuffles like his own "Pride & Joy." A masterful, if sometimes understated, harmonica player (his take on Little Walter's "Crazy About You Baby," included here, shows him in full flight), Neal was also a fine singer, and if his songs lyrically often wandered into cliché territory, his subtle, emotional, and completely believable vocal phrasing yanked them right back out again. Seldom flashy, and working without a stable of gimmicks, Neal doesn't hit you over the head with what he does (which is probably part of the reason he isn't better known), but his steady, solid approach to his own brand of swamp blues makes this a comfortable outing that quickly grows on you.

Biography

Born: June 6, 1936 in Baton Rouge, LA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '90s

When he wasn't busy siring progeny (the Neal household produced ten kids, most of them seemingly now playing the blues), Raful Neal was staking his claim as one of the top harpists on the Baton Rouge blues front. Unfortunately, until recently, his discography didn't reflect that status -- but albums for Alligator and Ichiban have righted that injustice. Born in Baton Rouge in 1936, Neal took up the harp at age 14, tutored by a local player named Ike Brown and influenced by Chicago mainstay Little...
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Old Friends, Raful Neal
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