Blues Round-up: June 2013

Henry Yates on new releases from James Cotton, Jo Harman, Harry Manx, Popa Chubby and The Russ Tippins Electric Band

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James Cotton: Cotton Mouth Man

As the blower-in-chief for Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters back in the 1950s, James Cotton’s respiratory welly was enough to literally suck the reeds from his harmonica. Astonishingly, at the age of 77 – and even post-throat cancer – the veteran’s ferocious assault on the old tin sandwich remains something to hear. It’s true that Cotton Mouth Man is kept afloat by a small army of musicians, co-writers and reverential white-boy cameos, with Joe Bonamassa – yep, him again – popping up for a brilliant tilt at the title track, and Gregg Allman proving an engaging storyteller on Midnight Train. But even when reduced to an ostensibly supporting role, it’s Cotton who steals the show, his harp alternately wheezing like a train and squalling like a tomcat, behind a lyric sheet that fundamentally tells his own auspicious backstory. Technically dubious, though undeniably touching, is final track Bonnie Blue, in which the veteran takes the mic for his first studio vocal in a decade, croaking through his gold-plated CV in a voice that’s as parched as the Sahara. (810)

Jo Harman: Dirt On My Tongue

Everyone’s favourite hot tip, Harman is loved by the camera, likeably sarcastic in interviews, and proves genuinely soulful on this debut, melting into piano balladry like Fragile and I Shall Not Be Moved and ready to trawl the emotional depths on Sweet Man Moses. That she’s a star is beyond doubt; whether she’ll stick with the blues seems less certain. (810)

Harry Manx: Om Suite Ohm

He’s a strange fish, Harry Manx. A Canadian bluesman who caught the raga bug in India, he fuses sitar with Cooder-esque slide to strange, beautiful and idiosyncratic effect. The best moment is Love Supreme, which sounds like sunset at the Taj Mahal, and the maddest, Way Out Back, boasts both thunderclaps and a spoken-word lyric, which suggest its author has touched the brown acid. (710)

Popa Chubby: Universal Breakdown Blues

The Chubster can be relied on for saucy tales over stinging guitar, and here he’s on impish form, with 69 Dollars recounting a disastrous trip to the off-licence and Take Me Back To Amsterdam pining for a reefer. An instrumental Somewhere Over The Rainbow won’t give Jeff Beck sleepless nights, but his place among the blues-rock galacticos is secure. (710)

The Russ Tippins Electric Band: Combustion

The lapel-grabbing blues rock of Russ Tippins’ trio can even make a wet club night in Luton feel like an event, and this second album catches most of the electricity. It boasts 11 cracking originals, of which Too Cool To Sweat is the pick. Tippins is the key: a frontman whose mix-slicing voice, TNT fretwork and luxurious hair is too good to remain a cult concern. (710)

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.