RICHARD RAY FARRELL & STEVE GUYGER: DOWN HOME OLD SCHOOL COUNTRY BLUES (BLUE BEET)

It didn’t take long for Richard Ray Farrell to “win-friends-and-influence-people’ (especially the ‘right people’) upon his return to the U.S. after spending most of the last 30 years in Europe. Anyone doing an album with Harmonica Ace Steve Guyger deserves/demands our attention as Guyger is strictly ‘old-school’ and also at a level of talent & experience that sees few peers (especially since Guyger worked with Chicago legend Big Guitar Red a.k.a. Walter Smith for several years). In the liner notes, Thomas J. Cullen refers to Guyger and Farrell as ‘The Bucks County, PA based tandem” which suggests that this album is not just a ‘one-off’ and that this is a working duo act and if that’s the case, they should be on this Summer’s Festival circuit and that’s reassuring. Referring to them as ‘old school’, Cullen is on-the-money with that description and while the contemporary Blues scene is awash with acoustic Country Blues duos, Farrell & Guyger are a big head-and-shoulders above 98% of the rest. The first thing you notice about this disc is the beautiful, crystal-clear sound, which is usually only found on Audiophile pressings. So kudos right away to Ground Hog Studio in Holland, PA (recording, mixing and mastering all taking place there and performed by one Michael Tassia).
Guyger has a tone/sound on harp that is entirely his own and immediately recognizable and on the opening cut, the old chestnut “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, you’ll find yourself saying/thinking “Now this is really different”. Many might be scared-off by the song list of classic (and often over-recorded) Country Blues numbers but you’ll be in for a real mind-blowing experience when you hear what these 2 totally unique talents do with the material. Richard’s steel-box picking gives “Good Morning…” an immediate ear-catching flavor and Guyger’s accompanying harp is astoundingly lyrical. It’s also a treat (a Rare treat) when both of the light-skinned purveyors of these Blues can sing-their-asses-off. “Cool Cool Place To Go” is Sonny Boy #2’s exuberant masterpiece and Guyger tackles it with a Joy and Passion that only a Sonny Boy fanatic could put across. (Sonny Boy #2 is in my books the REAL King of The Blues…). Even “Rollin’ And Tumblin’”, a tune that I declared I’d not listen to another recording of, comes across with fire, as the balance between Farrell & Guyger is one-of-a-kind in that both contribute equal amounts of molten energy. By the end of “Rollin’ And Tumblin’”, you’ll be thinking that Farrell & Guyger are the absolute Best duo on the scene today. The imaginative reworkings of tough classics really reaches a peak with Little Walter’s “I Gotta Go”, with Farrell playing his box like a man possessed (a number that very few pickers will ever match in terms of co-ordination and execution), while Guyger blows incredible harmonica. Wow! I had to hear this one 4 times in a row (and take note to play this to several friends). Robert Nighthawk’s deep “Friar’s Point Blues” is an opportunity for Richard to play some sweet acoustic slide. “Oh Red!” a popular jitterbug Blues from the 1940s is another absolute gem, with Richard & Steve getting lost in the good-time Joy and playing like men possessed. “Cocaine Blues” comes from the 1930s and it’s such a sly comment on Segregation and Black Life realities that one could write an Anthropology Paper on the lyrics. Richard’s voice is perfect for it and he imbues the lyrics with just the right amount of cynical humour, which is the whole gist of the tune. “Gimme Mine Now” is an early Chicago Blues from Tampa Red and the boogie guitar and the tasty harp solo (high notes that’d make James Cotton smile) makes this a standout track amongst killer-diller tunes. I dare you to keep your feet still! “That’s Alright” is performed using the early Robert Lockwood version as the model and it’s an exercise in less-is-more as every picked/blown note counts big-time. “Keep Your Hands Off Her” is a number that’s been done many times in many ways but never like this. Good time exuberance. These guys obviously have fun playing together. “Sail On” should be heard by every harmonica player/fan, as Guyger’s taste and genius are present in a truckload. Perfect guitar accompaniment by Richard also helps too. “Early In The Morning” is a rompin’ stompin’ tour de force guaranteed to have winos dancin’ in the street. Every single second of this CD is Pure, perfect Genius & Joy in equal doses and I can’t recall ever experiencing Acoustic Blues duos (outside of Sonny & Brownie) that had this much magic in it. It’s exactly what ‘doctor-ordered’ for 2006/2007 as it exudes soul-fixin’ goodness. Easily the Best new Acoustic Blues album to come along in many years. 6 Bottles of Old Grand Dad for an album every Blues fan (no matter how jaded) should own and play the Heck-out-of. What better way to change the World than through Joyful Noise?! Only occasionally am I compelled to thank the artist(s) personally for giving the World a gift and in this case, it’s entirely warranted; thanks guys!
…A. Grigg


REVIEW FROM ANDY GRIGG OF REAL BLUES MAGAZINE - Vancouver, Canada