The late Slim Harpo (real name, James Moore) is deservedly the most popular artist in the Excello stable and I say that in spite of the presence of more critically acclaimed artists like Lightnin' Slim and Lonesome Sundown. Deservedly because, possibly in association with producer Jay Miller, he was able to create catchy sounds both in terms of songs and their treatment, which really caught the ears of the paying customers. In addition, his most well known numbers, "I'm a King Bee", "Got love if you want it", "Baby, scratch my back" and "Tip on in" had a sexual content that had all but disappeared from blues and rock'n'roll (that's with the honourable exception of Jerry Lee and certain others in the Excello stable). I'm not sure whether this was calculated to appeal or not! He was also more able to adapt to the times unlike others at Excello - witness later recordings such as "Mohair Sam" and "Fulsom Prison". Who knows, if he'd lived he might have gone on to be a soul star - he certainly had all the rhythmic influences.
This set concentrates on the earlier period of Harpo's tenure at Excello but shows many of the characteristics mentioned in the above para. The mini-hits "King Bee", "Got love" and "Rainin' in my heart" are all here and it has to be said that they are standouts - the swooping bass line in "King Bee" and that unusual rhythm in "Got Love" still get me. They also came to the ears of white rockabilly man Warren Smith over in Memphis and he put out a good cover of "Got love". It was unusual at the time for blues covers to happen in this way - most blues came back to the US via the Brit bands who were fascinated by the sounds of the American south. The unabashedly sentimental and un-blues like, "Rainin' in my heart" still divides opinions - I think I've grown to like it over time.
The overall sound of the tracks on this album deserves mention. There's often an echo effect not unlike what Sam Phillips had been doing in Memphis. Also the lead guitar is more clangy than you'd normally find on typical blues - more akin to rock guitar at times. And on top of it all there was Harpo's voice, a potent instrument in its own right and quite unlike any other voice in blues or rock.
There are more slow blues on the album than one would have expected but he does them well. In particular his version of Sundown's "My Home is a Prison" stands out. It's graced with Lazy Lester's harmonica which makes it sound more like a typical Lightnin' Slim slowie since Lester very often appeared on such tracks. The other Lester appearance is on "Lover's Confession", an unusual but effective minor key blues. Harpo's own harmonica is ever present. It's (obviously) particularly prominent on the instrumentals of which there are three. Two are slow mood pieces - with a sax also present - but the standout is probably "Buzzin'" a fast shuffle item.
Harpo's inventiveness is present on several tracks. "Blues Hangover" is a good example - who else but this man would have produced a blues on this subject? - I recall my single version of this had the hole punched slightly off-centre so the sound that came out was even more akin to the hangover state! Both "Bobby Sox baby" and "I love the life I'm living" are clear attempts to reach out to a wider market, the latter containing several swamp pop characteristics.
Verdict? A good album from a man with a very distinctive sound and the creative ability to back this up in an interesting manner.
One person found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?