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 Philip Verhaege
The release 'Mississippi BarBQ' is the debut album of singer, guitarist and songwriter Zac Harmon for the label Catfood Records. Zac Harmon grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. His mother played the piano while his father, the first city-registered black pharmacist, played harmonica and took care of the needs of artists such as Muddy Waters, BB King, Ike and Tina Turner, Albert King and Little Milton when they were around. Zac started his professional career at the age of 16 and played the guitar with Sam Myers, a friend of his father's. Two years later he played with Dorothy Moore, ZZ Hill and other famous blues artists who were in transit with their regional tours. In the early eighties, at the age of 21, he moved to LA and went through life as a studio musician, writer and producer. He first worked as a studio musician and finally achieved a very successful career as a songwriter and producer. Zac has worked on major films, TV shows and well-known national commercials. At a certain point, he was even hired by Michael Jackson as a staff writer for his publishing house, ATV Music. Harmon wrote songs for Troop, Karyn White, Evelyn 'Champagne' King, Freddie Jackson, The Whispers and The O'Jays, among others. He also produced songs for the Mystical Truth album by the reggae band Black Uhuru, which received a Grammy nomination in 1994.
Now he has settled in Dallas, Texas. His solo career went steadily and in 2003 was 'Live at Babe & Ricky's Inn', an exciting testimony to his Mississippi blues. His next release was in 2005 with 'The Blues According to Zacariah'. In 2006 he won the coveted Blues Music Award as "Best New Artist Debut". In 2008 he released 'Shot In The Kill Zone' in Europe, which was recorded live in the Lionel Hampton Room in Paris. He then signed with the Northern Blues label for his third and highly anticipated American album 'From The Root', which was released in April 2009. Zac was also successful with the record 'Music Is Medicine' from 2012 and 'Right Man Right Now' from 2016.
Now there is 'Mississippi BarBQ'. Zac (guitar, vocals) found backing in the eight-piece studio rhythm section, The Rays, with Bob Trenchard (bass), drummer Richy Puga, Johnny McGhee (guitar), Dan Ferguson (keys), Mike Middleton (trumpet), Andy Roman (alto sax) ), Nick Flood (tenor and baritone sax) and Drake Dominigue with his trombone and tuba. Besides all these musicians there is also his great touring band, with Chris Gipson (bass), Ralph Forrest (drums), Texas Slim (guitar) and keyboard player Corey Carmichael. The ten songs were produced by Grammy winner Jim Gaines (Santana, Steve Ray Vaughan and Journey) and recorded at the Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas. The soulful 'Gypsy Road' immediately kicks in an open door. Zac's sultry soul voice almost immediately agrees with some handsome guitar riffs. The keyboard intro from 'So Cold' immediately gives the track a funky swing. And that also supports the deep guitar groove from 'Smoke and Mirrors'. The soul blues ballad 'Mississippi BarBQ' is in pleasant contrast. The swinging soul chapiter 'Desperate Love' has been colored by an exciting wind section. Just like the piano boogie 'Honey Pleez' and the funky nailing 'Make A Dollar Out Of Fifteen Cents', which reminds us strongly of Johnny Guitar Watson. The song 'Sunday Morning After Saturday Night' is enthralled with BB King guitar licks. And then Zac starts to sound funky in the autobiographical 'Lord Save Me From LA' and the soul-inspired 'Since You Been Gone'. Bob Dylan's classic 'Knocking On Heaven's Door' is the only cover. Besides Dylan's version, perhaps the best cover version ever! Beautiful ...!
Zac Harmon brings his blues sound to another level. Soul enthusiastic songs nail very easily between some funky songs. There are no superlatives enough for this great sound. Album of the year 2019? It will certainly not be far off. Highly recommended!
by Peter Marinus
If you become interested in the blues as a young person, chances are that you will be totally devastated by it. That happened to singer-guitarist Zac Harmon from Jackson, Mississippi. At the age of 16 he was already part of the band of Sam Myers and later also in the bands of Dorothy Moore and ZZ Hill. Zac was even approached by Michael Jackson to become a "staff writer" for his ATV Music and also wrote songs for soul artists such as The O'Jays, The Whispers and Karyn White. A very versatile artist, who has now released his seventh album.
And it is not surprising that it is full of soulful blues. Blues that may be parked in the Robert Cray / Joe Louis Walker department.
A good example is the opening track, Gypsy Road . A song with a very pleasant warm groove and corrosive guitar work. So Cold is more on the soul side. Melodic a la Al Green or ZZ Hill with yet more corrosive guitar work and warm wind instruments.
Smoke And Mirrors has the same drive as "Standing On Shakey Ground" and might just catch on with Delbert McClinton fans. Mississippi BarBQ sounds very relaxed. Soulblues a la Bobby Bland's "Members Only". This song sounds like a barbecue, where the participants are already bulging before only one bite is eaten.
After that, the spirited-banging soul blues from Desperate Love used with excellent flaming guitar work. It keeps swinging with the pumping blues shuffle Honey Pleez with a leading role for the rolling piano by Dan Ferguson.
A funky clavinet opens Make A Dollar Out Of Fifteen Cents , a boldly functioning song with a lot of influences from Johnny "Guitar" Watson's repertoire. Sunday Morning After Saturday Night is a languid shuffling, somewhat jazzy, shuffle in which the hard-biting Albert Collins-like guitar playing is central.
After the lazy funky soul blues of Lord Save Me From LA , the light-hearted soul song Since You Been Gone soundsa little too polished for me. A song that belongs more to a "neat" soul formation like The Whispers, despite the great powerful bluesy guitar work.
Zac's version of the Bob Dylan classic Knocking On Heaven's Door sounds bluer than the original but at the same time a bit superfluous.
This seventh album from Zac Harmon is full of very pleasant soul blues and is definitely recommended for fans of that genre!
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.