REVIEWS and PRESS
"It took just one note from his guitar — a soulful moan-like sound — and the thousands of people in attendance to see blues superstar Zac Harmon perform during San Angelo’s 9th Annual Simply Texas Blues Festival, truly understood the blues."
Mississippi BarBQ - The Reviews Are In!
by Jon Siembieda
Mississippi’s own Zac Harmon has released his debut album on Catfood Records, “Mississippi Bar BQ.” It has been No. 1 on Root’s Music Reports Soul Blues Album Chart for eight weeks in a row.
I’ve been a fan of Harmon’s from afar for years. He used to play regularly in Los Angeles and built a long-standing reputation as a blazing blues guitar player, capped by winning the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2004 for best unsigned band. This newest record is produced by Grammy-winner Jim Gaines (Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Journey), and was recorded at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas.
Leadoff track “Gypsy Love” comes out of the gates with midtempo energy. “Smoke and Mirrors” has a Stevie Wonder-esque groove, tasteful background vocals, and of course, smoking blues guitar licks. “So Cold” has a Three Dog Night-kinda feel to it. Zac isn’t playing by the typical blues numbers, which I like. The production is solid. Harmon is throwing strikes.
You have to love a blues album that has a song titled “Make A Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents!” “Sunday Morning After Saturday Night” is straight outta the B.B. King playbook shuffle. The record ends with a unique cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.” Better than Clapton’s version, in my opinion.
Side note – when you take the CD out of the case, there’s a recipe for Mississippi-style BBQ. Nice touch. This is a solid blues album. Really killer guitar playing. Pick it up if you’re looking for some contemporary blues, and if you’re trying to find a new spice rub for your ribs.
by Richard Ludmerer
Zac Harmon is from Jackson Ms. where he grew up in a musical family. His father, a pharmacist, played harmonica while tending to the needs of local musicians including Muddy Waters, BB King, Albert King, Ike & Tina Turner, and Little Milton. Young Zac began his professional career as a guitarist playing with Sam Myers, Dorothy Moore and Z. Z. Hill. At the age of 21 he moved to Los Angeles and found work as a studio musician, songwriter and producer. As producer he worked with the reggae band Black Uhuru resulting in a 1994 Grammy nomination.
After composing some blues for a movie score Harmon recorded his first blues album, “Live at Babe & Ricky’s Inn”, and introduced himself as a torchbearer for future generations. Zac Harmon and the Mid-South Revue took first place in the band competition at the 2004 International Blues Challenge. In 2005 Harmon released “The Blues According To Zacariah” and won the Blues Music Award for “Best New Artist Debut”. As an actor Harmon starred in the independent feature film “Black and Blue” in 2010. He released his last album “Right Man Right Now” in 2016 on Blind Pig Records.
“Mississippi BarBQ” is Harmon’s seventh album overall and first for Catfood Records. The album is produced by Jim Gaines and recorded at the Sonic Ranch Studios, in Tornillo, Texas; thirty miles east of El Paso International Airport. Eight of the eleven songs were written or co-written by Harmon, five with Catfood Records owner and Executive Producer Bob Trenchard.
Harmon, is both vocalist and lead guitarist on all tracks, recorded with two completely different bands; Trenchard’s “Rays” (formerly known as Kay, Kay and The Rays) on seven tracks, and The Zac Harmon Band on four. The Rays include bassist Trenchard, Richie Puga, drums; Johnny McGhee, guitar; Dan Ferguson, keyboards; and the horn section of trumpeter Mike Middleton, alto saxophonist Andy Roman, tenor and baritone saxophonist Nick Flood, and Drake Dominigue, trombone and tuba. The horn arrangements are by Rudy Torres.
“How’d you get So Cold” is the first of five tunes from the songwriting team of Harmon and Trenchard with some fine guitar from Harmon. The funky “Smoke and Mirrors” features the background singers Janelle Thompson, Shakara Weston, and SueAnn Carwell. The background singers are featured again on the fabulous title track, a soon to be Southern Soul classic, with Corey Carmichael on keyboards. “Desperate Love” is another well produced track with the horns and the background singers, and another nice solo from Harmon. The fifth song from them is “Sunday Morning After Saturday Night”.
Linda “Kay Kay” Greenwade passed in 2012 one of her songs “Lord Save Me From L.A.” is reprised here, co-written with Trenchard, it also appears on Catfood Records “The Best of Kay Kay and The Rays”. “Son you gotta’ go down, down, down, down that Gypsy Road”, is from Trey Hardin and Sandy Carroll.
Four more songs are performed with Harmon’s regular touring band, included are keyboardist Carmichael and the rhythm section of Chris Gipson, bass; and Ralph Forrest, drums. Harmon’s “Honey Pleez” features Bob Corritore on harmonica. “Make A Dollar Out of 15 Cents” is from Harmon and co-writer John Hahn. The lone cover is an outstanding version of the Bob Dylan classic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.
Harmon states “For the first time in my career, I have had the opportunity to just be the best artist I can be at the guidance of a master producer…I got a chance to work with The Rays, which is a group of studio musicians headed up by Bob Trenchard. The Rays are incredible, and they bring the best out of every song. I also got a chance to collaborate in the writing with Trenchard…my favorite is the title song “Mississippi BarBQ” …my other favorite is “A Dollar Out of 15 Cents” which I wrote with John Hahn.”
Harmon has surrounded himself with the best in the business resulting in this truly great recording. Vocally he sounds more relaxed than ever before. This is an award winning effort.
by John Kereiff
A remarkable new album from this talented singer/guitarist. Mississippi Bar BQ has soul by the trainload, the playing is sublime, and it’s a joy to listen to.
As a singer Zac has Bobby “Blue” Bland’s uptown sophistication. As a guitar player he’s a cross between Freddie King, BB King and George Benson- precise and emotional but not excessive. Mississippi Bar BQ showcases 10 original numbers, plus a sweet cover of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. Produced by Jim Gaines (Santana, SRV, Journey) the sound of this disc is flawless. Backing Harmon on most of these songs is a group of studio musicians called The Rays; Bob Trenchard on bass, Richy Puga on drums,, Johnny McGee on guitar, Dan Ferguson on keys, plus a casually excellent horn section that will have you feeling BB King’s big band blues sound circa Live At The Regal. Several other tracks feature Zac’s touring band.
With a title like Mississippi Bar BQ I expected this to be rougher around the edges like a backyard party, but it’s a more sophisticated blues vibe- quite enjoyable. I know I talk a lot about groove in my reviews, but in the blues in particular it’s crucial and this disc has it in endless supply. This is what greatness sounds like.
KEY CUTS: Mississippi Bar BQ, So Cold, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
by Kevin Wierzbicki
With a title like Mississippi Bar BQ, fans are likely to delve into this one expecting a savory experience, and that's exactly what they'll get. His "grill" is his electric guitar and what's cookin' is the Robert Cray-like "Gypsy Road," the organ and horns-enhanced R&B of "So Cold" and the funk-infused "Smoke and Mirrors." Harmon doesn't have one of those grizzled bluesman voices; he sings with a brightness that will charm fans well outside of the traditional blues audience. The title cut, a seductive groove sweetened with female background vocals, is a perfect example. The song has a "let's cuddle" feel to it but Harmon isn't talking about carnal delights on "Mississippi Bar BQ;" try not to drool as he runs down a menu that includes chicken and ribs, two kinds of pie, collard greens, corn bread and a big pot of beans. Harmon wrote or co-wrote most of the songs here, including the street savvy "Make a Dollar out of Fifteen Cents" and the shuffling soul of "Sunday Morning after Saturday Night," but he closes out the album with a take on Bob Dylan's oft-covered "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." Jim Gaines (Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Journey) produced Mississippi Bar BQ, and fans are definitely going to be asking for seconds.
by Mike O'Cull
Award-winning blues vocalist and guitarist Zac Harmon recently became part of the Catfood Records family and his debut effort, Mississippi Bar BQ on the El Paso, Texas-based label, comes out July 19th, 2019. Produced by Grammy-winner Jim Gaines (Santana, Steve Ray Vaughan) Mississippi Bar BQ gives the world ten new original songs and a killer cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” The record is the most progressive release of Harmon’s career and he revels in the opportunity to take his Bobby “Blue” Bland-meets-Freddie King style anywhere he wants go under the watchful ears of a master producer.
Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Zac Harmon is a true descendant of the music that poured out of the city’s historic Farish Street district, home of blues legend Elmore James. He started his professional career at age 16, playing guitar with Sam Myers, a friend of his father. A short two years later, he was playing with Dorothy Moore, Z.Z. Hill, and other well-known blues artists. He has since gone on to have a long and illustrious life in the blues, and Mississippi Bar BQ is the beginning of an exciting new chapter in his story.
Harmon works with two distinct bands on these sessions and both outfits put down admirable performances. Seven tracks were cut with The Rays, an extra-solid bunch of studio veterans who fit Harmon’s songs like a second skin. The other four cuts were done with Harmon’s top-flight road band, who also know how to do it right when the red light comes on. This blended effort resulted in a supremely listenable record that showcases every bit of Harmon’s talent and remains captivating from beginning to end.
“Gypsy Road” opens the album with a mid-speed funk/rock vibe that’s instantly alluring. Zac lays down some extremely toneful guitar parts throughout the main groove and then demonstrates his deft lead phrasing during a solo bridge. His voice is warm, expressive, and smooth, with an uptown quality that allows him to stand apart from more rough-hewn blues singers. “Smoke and Mirrors” takes the funk deeper and tells the all-too-common tale of love gone wrong. Dan Ferguson of The Rays turns in a shark-toothed clavinet groove on this one that really propels the pocket while Harmon laments that “It wasn’t love, just a hustler’s con.” If this doesn’t make you dance, nothing will.
The title track, “Mississippi Bar BQ,” is the kind of soulful R&B song most artists write about love gone right but Harmon uses these lush chords to sing about food, fun, family, and friends. It’s a feel-good song that’s right on target for Summer partying and makes the idea of ribs, beers, and blues at Zac’s place sound like one heck of a good time. Harmon puts down some mellow and melodic lead guitar that goes well with the mood of the moment and makes all seem right with the world.
Harmon’s take on “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is heavily gospel and R&B-influenced and he breathes much freshness into a song that so many others have sung before him. He ups the intensity in the middle with some energetic blues/rock soloing and ample support from his Zac Harmon Band. Harmon finds something new in this familiar song and it’s one of his best moments on the entire set.
Mississippi Bar BQ is a mighty first release on his new label and Harmon sounds ready and able to keep reaching for these type of heights. The writing, playing, and singing here all happen at a high level and Harmon sounds like he has another dozen albums of music inside him ready to burst out. If you’re not already hip to him, you should be. You will absolutely love this record!
by Bill Wilson
Zac Harmon lays out a great spread for his Mississippi BarBQ. While many bands are essentially “meat and potatoes,” Harmon delivers all that…with all the trimmings. This is a full-blown soul/blues extravaganza. The album enlists the talents two bands, Bob Trenchard’s “Rays” and Zac’s touring band. While the two units bring different strengths to the table, Harmon’s soulful guitar style and vocals bring it together beautifully. I generally approach this type of album with extreme caution. All too often the recordings are overproduced; making for a sound that is far too homogenized. Thank God for the talents and ears of Jim Gaines, who did an incredible job here. Eight of the eleven tunes on the album were written or co-written by Harmon. Both the Rays & Harmon’s touring band are in top form. A full horn section and angelic background vocals give this one a tone that will sit well with young and old alike. The title track has been at number one on the Soul Blues chart for the past five weeks. I am not at all surprised. This album is funky, soulful and one of those things that could be put in the player and set to play for the day. I left this CD hungering not only for more music but for a plate of ribs and collards. As an added bonus, a recipe for BarBQ ribs is included as a part of the package. This one might just be worth the price for the recipe alone. I’d say this one’s a keeper.
by Eric Schuurmans
"One of the leaders of the new roots and blues music revolution... "
William Zach "Zac" Harmon, from Jackson, MS, is a singer-songwriter and blues musician. Harmon worked with Northern Blues Music (Toronto, Ontario, CA) until 2015, then with Blind Pig Records (San Francisco, CA) and recently made his debut with Catfood Records (El Paso, TX).
While still in high school, Harmon played guitar for blues musicians like Z.Z. Hill, Dorothy Moore and Sam Myers. In the 80's he moves to Los Angeles to work as a musician. He started as a studio musician and later became a songwriter/producer. Harmon was the producer of Black Uhuru's album 'The Mystical Truth', which received a Grammy nomination in 1994. He also wrote songs for The O'Jays, The Whispers, Karyn White and Alexander O'Neal.
Harmon made his solo debut in 2003 as a blues musician with 'Live at Babe and Ricky's Inn'. Harmon (& The Mid South Blues Revue) will be nominated as "Best Unsigned Blues Band" at IBC 2004. In 2005, Harmon was voted "Best New Blues Artist" by the listeners of XM Satellite Radio and in 2006 he received a Blues Music Award for his album "The Blues According to Zacariah"  as "Best New Artist Debut". In 2010, Harmon received a Peavey Award at the Mississippi Celebrates its GRAMMY Legacy.
by David Whiteis
His label may be based in El Paso, but Zac Harmon puts his Mississippi roots front and center. This disc's inside sleeve even includes a recipe for Mississippi barbequed ribs (which of course would be pork ribs, not the beef usually preferred in Texas). That said, though, the music spans an agreeably broad stylistic/regional spectrum. The title song, instead of what might be the expected juke-joint raver, is a breezy, urbane, pop-soul celebration of family, community and heritage, along with the savory soul food that exemplifies it, that recalls R. Kelly's 2015 hit Backyard Party. Elsewhere, Harmon digs in to more aggressive sounds such as the spikey, blues-funk, hard-times anthem Make a Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents (on which his voice, unfortunately, can't match the rough-hewn grit of the sound and storyline). He sounds vocally more at ease with Lord Save Me From L.A., the lament of a formerly idealistic migrant who finds himself ground down by that city's relentless soul-crushing, high-tech, high-speed Silicon Valley culture. Harmon's guitar work ranges from in-the-pocket blues sparseness to power-pop grandiosity, but it's always tasteful and musically on point-no self-indulgent noodlings or pyrotechnics.
Harmon and his band don't wear their influences on their sleeves, but they're subtly evident throughout. The undulating bassline, piano/harmonica interplay (along with Bob Corritore's Cotton-esque harp solo), and lurching cadence of Honey Pleeze recall Muddy Waters' 1981 version of King Bee; Dan Ferguson's burbling keyboard line in Smoke and Mirrors sounds based on Stevie Wonder's Superstition; Sunday Morning After Saturday Night swings with unforced hipness that invokes Latimore's classic 1973 take on Stormy Monday (which itself arose in the wake of Lou Rawls and Les McCain's early 60's version).
As noted, Zac Harmon isn't the world's most expressive vocalist, and when the occasion calls for grit, anguish, or erotic intensity, he can sometimes sound strained or out of his element. Nonetheless, on a purely musical basis, he and his studio crew here deliver a tasteful, soulful, and winningly diverse set of contemporary blues and blues-based offerings.