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Somewhere On Down the Line

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Album Review

While there's little startling about this 1999 collection of predominantly acoustic covers from the Chicago harpist/vocalist, the band and Simmons consistently find a low-key groove that's intoxicating. Simmons sings with easy authority, a sort of less lascivious Sonny Boy Williamson, and his band supports him with an effervescent, entirely unpretentious upbeat blues that leaps out of the speakers. Even warhorses like Little Willie John's "Fever" (which features an absolutely mind-melting piano solo from someone named Tyler Yarema) and Little Milton's "All Around the World," both of which have been covered to death, find unexpectedly fresh interpretations here. With leisurely, moving vocals that deliver emotionally without unnecessary effort, Simmons dances with the melodies, and his inspired performance makes this a successful album. The primarily acoustic format keeps the sound airy and uncluttered, as Simmons shifts from blues to gospel to R&B with deceptive ease. Seemingly recorded live in the studio with no overdubbing, the session crackles with unhurried electricity, as best exemplified by a spry cover of Joe Henderson's "Snap Your Fingers." Mack's unamplified harp solos hark back to pre-Little Walter days, but it's the way he and the band ease into these songs like a comfy pair of jeans that infuses the disc with such offhand pleasure. Everyone is having a blast, and the infectious feeling is perfectly captured on this recording. The CD closes with a weak 1971 recording of Junior Parker's "Next Time You See Me" (featuring Lonnie Brooks and Detroit Junior) that appears to be taken from a badly warped tape, or features someone playing in the wrong key. Otherwise, this is a subtle, fairly obscure gem well worth searching for.

Somewhere On Down the Line, Little Mack Simmons
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