Various Artists

This Is the Blues Harmonica

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You don't have to be a bluesman to be known for your harmonica playing -- Stevie Wonder has taken his share of memorable harmonica solos, and the distinctive Toots Thielemans (who is arguably the Stan Getz of the harmonica) has demonstrated that a harmonica player can handle the most sophisticated of jazz. That said, no musical idiom has given listeners more first-class harmonica players than the blues. From the Mississippi Delta and the bayous of Louisiana to Chicago's South Side, the harmonica has long been the blues' most famous wind instrument. Spanning 1950-1999, This Is the Blues Harmonica gives listeners an appealing taste of some of the harmonica soloists (many of them singers) to whom Delmark has had access over the years. At its best, this compilation is excellent -- and at its worst, it is at least decent. It's quite appropriate that the CD opens with Little Walter's 1950 recording "Red Headed Woman," for the singer's harmonica solos had a major impact on many Chicago bluesmen of the 1950s and 1960s. This collection tends to favor Chicago-based harmonica players, who range from Big Walter Horton on "Hard-Hearted Woman" (1954) and Louis Myers on "Top of the Harp" (1968) to the obscure Harmonica George on 1959's instrumental (and poorly recorded) "Sputnik Blues." But This Is the Blues Harmonica detours into acoustic country blues with Sleepy John Estes' rare 1964 recording of "New York City Blues," which features the singer's longtime partner Hammie Nixon on harmonica. There are some other rarities as well, including Carey Bell's infectious 1972 instrumental "Deep Down South" and Junior Wells' "This Is the Blues" (which is from the 1965 session that gave us his Hoodoo Man Blues album). This disc is far from the last word on blues harmonica, but it's a good-to-excellent collection that is recommended to anyone who has admired Delmark's contributions to the blues.

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