Harrison Kennedy

High Country Blues

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Although he first gained attention as one-quarter of the great Detroit vocal group the Chairmen of the Board ("Give Me Just a Little More Time," etc.), Harrison Kennedy is originally from the university town of Hamilton, Ontario. Returning home after the group's early-'70s chart run, Kennedy spent close to 30 years outside of the music business before returning as a blues singer and guitarist with 2003's Sweet Taste and 2005's Voice + Story. High Country Blues, Kennedy's debut for the refreshingly non-purist blues label Electro-Fi, is the singer and guitarist's strongest outing to date. Kennedy kicks the album off with the stomping boogie "Let Me Call You," a song that in other hands might sound like just another John Lee Hooker knockoff, but Kennedy's canny use of shakers and kalimba for the unusual rhythm track turns it into an unexpected intermingling of Central Africa, Latin America, and the Mississippi Delta. The rest of High Country Blues is similarly unconcerned with concepts of authenticity and tradition for their own sake; in his liner notes, Kennedy compares himself to the obscure Louisiana bluesman Robert Pete Williams (whose signature song, "Grown So Ugly," has been covered by everyone from Captain Beefheart to the Black Keys), claiming a similar lack of connection to any established blues tradition, and based on these 16 all-original songs, he's entirely right. Kennedy moves easily from the rollicking hokum of "Blues from a Bottle" (complete with non-ironic kazoo solos!) to the a cappella gospel sway of "Gonna Be Alright." Elsewhere, the gutbucket slide and harrowing vocals of the haunted "Run-A-Round Blues" is immediately replaced by the joyous loverman strut of "Love Serenade," powered by Keith Lindsay's rollicking organ line and a guitar riff that's either consciously or not lifted from the opening of Les Paul & Mary Ford's similarly giddy "How High the Moon." The songs are informed by various blues strains, but Kennedy wisely avoids tying to mold himself into a caricature of a particular style. The resulting album is uniformly excellent, one of the most satisfying blues albums of 2007.

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