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Adam Gussow - Southbound

Modern Blues Harmonica Productions

11 tracks/42:48

In the extensive notes that accompany this release, Adam Gussow details his life since he left New York City ten years ago to begin life in as an English professor at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Gussow had spent fifteen years in partnership with Sterling Magee, better known as Satan & Adam. The duo released three critically acclaimed recordings that were based on material they worked up on their regular gig on a Harlem street corner.

Now working as a one man music-maker, Gussow handles all of the harmonica and vocal parts, plays rhythm guitar on six tracks, lead guitar on the opening cut and adds percussion nine songs. Backing musicians include Jerry Jemmott, Dave Woolworth and Benjamin Earl on bass with Bill Perry Jr. on keyboards and Jeremy Clement on drums. Bryan Ward plays rhythm guitar on four tunes and bass on another as well as engineering the sessions in addition to co-producing the project with Gussow. The liner notes also include the key of the harp used on each cut

Gussow is a competent singer, putting out plenty of effort but lacking a distinctive voice. On the title track, Gussow's enthusiasm carries the day on the Dickey Betts classic. He has some fun with “Old McDonald in Mississippi”, an adult update of the childrens song that stemmed from a conversation Gussow heard about indecent exposure, sheep and a nativity scene. But his singing on “I'm Tore Down” fails to match the drive in the instrumental accompaniment. And his attempts at modulation on “C.C. Rider” really detract from an otherwise strong performance.

But no one will be buying this disc to hear Gussow sing. When he starts playing his harp, the world instantly becomes a better place. On the previously mentioned track, Gussow cuts loose with a long improvised passage that energizes the track. “Home to Mississippi” is a repetitive number featuring the leader's musings about life on the road, powered by his horn-like riffs on the harp. Gussow comments that Jimmy Reed's “You Don't Have to Go” was a favorite in the early stages of his career and he utilizes a James Cotton riff on his version.

All of the instrumental tracks are gems, starting with the “Sanford and Son Theme”, composed by Quincy Jones. With Perry Jr. on electric keyboards and his own forceful percussive beat behind him, Gussow turns the familiar theme inside and out several times in joyful celebration. Jemmott's booming bass kicks off the next piece with Ward and Gussow on guitar. You have never heard a version of Hugh Masakela's hit “Grazing in the Grasss” like this one. Gussow turns up the heat and lays down some magnificent improvisational lines that will get many listeners up on their feet to dance along. Another unusual selection is Chis Botti's contemporary jazz tune, “Why Not”, with Gussow on rhythm guitar and shaker while Jemmott's deep tones on bass establish the groove. Gussow plays from the third position and again blows some stirring licks that take this one to a darker spot than the original did. Rick Braun's “Green Tomatoes” is transformed into an all-out Mississippi hill-country stomp with Gussow again using the harp like a horn to call his listeners back to where the blues began.

The disc closes with an all-too brief version of “Alley Cat” with a humorous explanation in the notes about the tune's place in Gussow's life story. There are a lot of very good harp blues harp players making the rounds these days but I haven't heard many that could capture my attention like Adam Gussow does on this recording. With minimal backing on most songs, his high energy approach and creative playing make this one a must-hear disc for harp players and anyone else who enjoys a fresh approach to blues music.

Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.

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