Reviews for "The Blues According to Zacariah"
Listening as I have repeatedly to Zac Harmon’s latest CD, The Blues According to Zacariah, I am swept back to the time when I first heard Robert Cray’s False Accusations (1985) and Strong Persuader (1986) dubbed onto a single long-playing cassette. At that time I was mesmerized by the rich, smart lyrics and the fresh, funky interpretation of the Blues sound. The Blues According to Zacariah makes the same impression on me. Zac’s music is fresh and deeply rooted in the Blues tradition, a reflection of his own Mississippi upbringing. In what seems de rigueur these days, the CD opens with a spiritual, That Mighty High. But instead of a perfunctory nod to God, over Jerry Angel’s piston-pumping drumbeat, Zac pulls the listener onto the heaven-bound train for a full-body shaking ride.
After the opening nod to a higher spiritual power, Zac plunges directly into the secular with the plea: “I want to be your Sugarman…” Besides the classic begging nature of the lyrics, Zac’s guitar and Jeff Stone’s harmonica reinforce the theme with pleading intensity. Who’s Knocking is a humorous but cautionary tale with a loping beat holding up Zac’s rather whimsical guitar stylings. Then we get the juke joint, low-down guitar licks and trash talking on It’s Cool With Me, a song written by a former student of Zac’s, bluesman Eddie Cotton, Jr. Zac makes the song his own; showcasing both his guitar playing and singing, and proving that he deserves the press that dares to mention his name next to Bobby Blue Bland’s.
Zac’s voice with its spiritual verve and showman’s delivery is reminiscent of another Blues/Soul star, the late Johnny Taylor, especially on tunes like Comfort of a Man and A Hole in My Heart. But my special treat on this excellent CD is the duet with Mickey Champion, covering the Elmore James tune, It Hurts Me Too. As one writer put it, Ms. Champion’s voice is a “cross between a smooth shot of Hennessy and an acetylene blowtorch.” She certainly burns up this piece. And when she says, “…it hoits me too,” you feel her pain. This cut is also a showcase for Zac’s clever guitar riffs.
Upon listening to The Blues According to Zacariah I was taken back to my first hearing of Robert Cray’s music because Zac inspires the same hope. Over 20 years after that first exposure to Cray, here’s Zac to remind us that the heart and soul of the Blues lives on. Let’s have another 20 years of The Blues According to Zacariah.
The Blues According to Zachariah
This CD was sent by British ex-pat Betsie Brown of the Memphis, Tennessee based company Crows Feet Productions. This a very agreeable CD from Zac Harmon, an undiscovered gem in the world of blues.
Zac has a wonderful voice and is also a very accomplished guitarist. This CD is a highly recommended album of quality songs from both Zac's pen and other high quality and more well known songwriters. This is what we found......
The album opens with That Mighty High, a bright and breezy good-time feeling song with Zac's slightly chanted lyrics and jaunty organ giving way to Zac's real singing voice with plenty of locomotion." You gotta ride...ride that Mighty High!" go the lyrics with a fast tempo harmonica beneath Zac and the backing singers harmony. Good opener! The CD continues with a song called Sugarman. Sounding uncannily like Carl Weathersby, with maybe a touch of Robert Cray thrown in, it's a really pleasant song vocally. The addition of some beautifully toned guitar provided some super licks and some organ peaks illustrating the excellent stereo effects of this high quality production. This CD reaches beyond the human calling as the door knocking effect beneath the song Who's Knockin had my own hound-dog barking during the song! This song has some nice slide guitar, excellent vocals and has a healthy slice of humour added. This composition would not go amiss on a Shemekia Copeland CD, it has that jaunty, comical feel. Credit is due to the harp player too. Brilliant!
Eddie Cotton's It's Cool With Me starts with a cool bass and drums groove with a fat cushion of Hammond B3 and Zac's classic sounding blues guitar. The medium/slow tempo 12 bar sound is a luxurious wallow in the blues with Zac's magnificent guitar and vocal combination with some amount of Buddy Guy kinda phrasing throughout. Wonderful! I had to pick up my guitar to jam as I listened to the introduction! The song's in B-flat by the way! "Have Mercy" sings Zac at the end of this song!
A real treat is the fifth track That's Why. This Zac Harmon composition has a Robert Cray feel to it. Zac's vocals are beautiful, he's a great singer, and I mean G-R-E-A-T. The phrasing is superb throughout this modern blues masterpiece and has some excellent blues guitar, full of feeling and meaning. The song is a full production and of top quality right out of the studio.
Muddy Water's classic Mannish Boy is next up and in B-Flat again to suit Zac's vocal pitch, this is a very tight production with all the essential ingredients, the classic riff, the hollering after the "I'm a Man..." with a very unique phrasing on the "I'm a Mannish Boy". What a marvellous blues. Mel London had a part in writing Mannish Boy and he also takes the credits for It Hurts Me Too. Zac duets with Miss Mickey Champion and the song has a superb harmonica intro. This slow tempo blues takes you back to thoughts of duets in the Juke Joints with Zac and Miss Mickey's smoochy, smouldering blues style. Zac doesn't let us down with the guitar either, there's some really tasty licks too. Marvellous!
The song Comfort of a Man is an emotional roller coaster ride with gut wrenching guitar, which is thought to be Greg Wright the left-handed superstar, and Zac's neo Solomon Burke vocals. This deserves more words written about it but lets just leave it by saying this is one of the best songs of it's genre I've ever heard. It's truly beautiful. The album closer, A Hole In My Heart, is a superb song with a nice guitar intro giving way to a BB King phrasing style on the vocals. Zac gets pretty close to Riley B with the vocal style and this helps the style of this excellent slow blues. There's elements of Solomon Burke in there too, it's that good! Halfway through the song Zac says "Pass me my guitar man" and proceeds to rip through another face-contorting guitar passage with what seems like a lot of tone rolled off the treble. Nice tone too! Zac comes back in with the emotionally charged lyrics to take the song to it's conclusion and close the highly satisfying album.
This CD is the best blues CD I've heard for some time. Zac is a great performer, vocals, guitar and songwriting, he's got it all. My thanks go to Bluestone Records and Betsie Brown of Crows Feet Productions for bringing this superb album to my attention.
"The Blues According to Zacariah"
BY PETER "BLEWZZMAN" LAURO, © OCTOBER, 2005
Having twice seen ZAC HARMON & THE MID SOUTH REVIEW live, I've already had the pleasure of writing a few words about their shows and it's the memories of those very shows that led me to want to review their new CD.
Winning the 2004 IBC Award earned them to right to perform for the cocktail hour preceding that years W C Handy Awards. The thing I remember most about that performance was the bands ability to draw - and maintain - a very large and very attentive crowd to the stage, in a room where the main objective of the crowd is to eat, drink, mingle, ogle, take pictures and seek autographs.
That same week, I caught their full fledged festival act at 'Memphis in May' and that show just blew me away. The chemistry between ZAC HARMON and JEFF STONE was masterful. I'll never forget ZAC pointing to JEFF and saying "he is to me what Junior Wells was to Buddy Guy". WHOA! OK, enough reminiscing and on with the CD review.
On "THE BLUES ACCORDING TO ZACARIAH", ZAC HARMON assembled a crowd of quality musicians. The list reads like a small towns white pages. With himself on guitar, bass, keys, lead and background vocals, he is of course joined by the regulars of the MID SOUTH REVIEW: JEFF STONE, harmonica; "COOL" CORA COLEMAN, drums; DOUG "MUG" SWANSON, bass; RODNEY "BR" MILLON, GUITAR; BILL PURDY, organ & piano. As if this wasn't enough talent, enter the "KATS" - PHIL GATES, guitar and background vocals; CHRISTOPHER TROY, piano, organ and horns; TRACY CARTER, organ, clavinet and background vocals; JOSHUA DUNHAM, ANDREW GOUCHE and P-BASS JONES, bass; SHANNON PEARSON and DWIGHT WRIGHT, background vocals; GREGG WRIGHT, guitar; and MISS MICKEY CHAMPION, vocals.
"THE BLUES ACCORDING TO ZACARIAH", opens with one of the discs six originals - "THAT MIGHTY HIGH", a classic uplifting Gospel song, with lots of very timely and well maintained hand clapping, lots of very well harmonized background singing and lots of soulful hollering from ZAC. This one's hot stuff.
"WHO'S KNOCKING" is another hot one. The slide guitar and harmonica work, along with ZAC'S sharp and melodic vocals highlight this one.
"IT'S COOL WITH ME" and "A HOLE IN MY HEART" are two blues songs that all aspiring young bluesmen should be required to listen to. This is what the blues is all about.....searing guitar licks and scorching vocals - perfectly done.
"THAT'S WHY" is all ZAC. With some very nice horn work providing him with the rhythm, and some soft background vocals providing a bit of support, he sings his heart out on this original ballad.
Unquestionably, in my opinion, one of the best tracks on this disc has to be a cover called "IT HURTS ME TOO". The song opens with some serious blues harp then gives way to a powerful vocal verse by ZAC. At this point MISS MICKEY CHAMPION takes over and takes this one over the top. More from her would have been sweet.
Other tracks on "THE BLUES ACCORDING TO ZACARIAH", one of the best CD's this listener's ears have heard this year, include "SUGARMAN", "MANNISH BOY", and "COMFORT OF A MAN".
"THE BLUES ACCORDING TO ZACARIAH", may just be the product that takes ZAC HARMON AND THE MIDSOUTH REVIEW from the cocktail hour to the main stage of the W C Handy Awards.
Zac Harmon - The Blues According to Zacariah© 2005
Reviewed by Lisa Palmeno
Zac Harmon's writing, playing and singing exemplify the meaning of blues music. On his debut studio album, The Blues According to Zacariah, Harmon's approach is up-front, bold and beautiful. With the resounding vibrations of a zealous gospel minister, the bluesman preaches his way through the album of originals with southern style and grace.
Released in September 2005, the CD offers six inspiring originals that were co-written by Harmon and a variety of industry professionals. Upbeat with a funky bass line and gospel keyboard work and clapping, "That Mighty High" starts the album off talking "About a train bound for heaven in Jesus' name." The church offering tosses around bits and pieces of classic country and rock for a complete, whole sound.
After "That Mighty High," Harmon takes the listener back down into the straight-up blues with a love dedication on "Sugarman." Harmon says he will "pick six miles of cotton and a hundred feet of hay" just to be his girl's sugarman. "Sugarman" is slow, expressive and traditional blues.
"Who's Knockin'" is rockin' and accentuated with simple stops and starts and the freight-train imagery of the harp. Harmon shows strong country music roots again as the meat of the music on this song is very similar to Leann Rimes' "My Baby" on her Blue album. "Who's Knockin'" is well-done and served over-easy.
"It's Cool With Me" was written by Eddie Cotton, who was a student of Harmon's back in his days as a teacher at the YMCA. Cotton's composition is relaxed, smooth, traditional blues. Harmon's "That's Why" begins with the guitar and tells the old blues story of somebody's been sleepin' in my bed. Elongated phrasing and a delayed tempo stretch out the notes, giving a full-bodied round sound to the playing.
Harmon's voice really resonates on "Mannish Boy," written by Melvin London, Ellas McDaniels and McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters). His version of "It Hurts Me Too (also by Melvin London), is simple and pleasant, with strong resonating vocals from Harmon and Miss Mickey Champion, who round out the classic in a soulful duet.
"Comfort of a Man" brings the CD up to date with modern flavoring and jazzy sense. Easy-listening mood music, "Comfort" is romanticly subtle. The Santana-like guitar parts keep it deep and serious. "A Hole in My Heart" has a push-pull tightness that starts out far into the pocket and stays there. Minor chords and singing guitar strings stroll this melodic tune to a faded, final close.
The CD was produced mainly by Zac Harmon and Phil Gates at the studio Harmon co-owns with Christopher Troy, Our Own Studio, in Los Angeles, California. The mixing was done by David Rideau (Cane River Studios, Sherman Oaks, Calif.). The team worked out a fine piece of work for The Blues According to Zacariah. In December 2005, Harmon won the Best New Debut Artist from XM Satellite Radio listeners. It's no wonder. His work is recorded on at least two dozen albums, he performed on television numerous times, and performed in Coca Cola and Jello commercials. Maybe this recording (and the next) will make Harmon a household name. With the quality of the music on his debut album, it's a definite possibility.