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Donna Herula - The Moon is Rising (Songs of Robert Nighthawk)

DH Records

12 songs; 38:15 minutes

Styles: Acoustic resonator guitar Delta Blues and Country Blues

Veteran Blues fans are undoubtedly well-versed in the songs of Robert Nighthawk. However, for this reviewer, Donna Herula's “The Moon is Rising” was my first real introduction. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about a tribute album is that it makes one remember—or discover—how great the original artist was. Herula will make one glad to revisit Nighthawk and his masterpieces. Surprisingly, on this CD presenting ten of them, there are also two covers of other bluesmen's hits: Jim Jackson's “Gonna Move to Kansas City” and Tommy Johnson's “Maggie Campbell.” Either way, they're all her own arrangements and refreshingly inspiring!

Chicago area’s Donna Herula leads an enthusiastic ensemble with her sharp-timbre vocals, outstanding and accomplished picking and sliding on National steel resonator guitars, and PorchBoard Bass (foot stomp) with tambourine attachment on each song. In this age of all-too-often mumbled lyrics, Herula makes sure that every word rings true in listeners' ears. Completing her team are her husband Tony Nardiello on Collings guitar, John Jochem on Hohner harp, and Inna Morris Melnikov on electric violin only on this CD's title track. Together, they prove excellent musicianship doesn't always require slick production or fancy tricks with sound editing. When it comes to the blues, simple and resonant sound often trumps avant-garde arrangements. This is the case here. It was also the case when Donna won the 2010 Chicago Blues Challenge solo-duo category with harpist John Jochem and represented the Windy City Blues Society at the 2011 International Blues Challenge last February in Memphis.

Her vocal range has the clarity of a bell and the bite of a dagger! On some songs, she sounds so much like Annie Raines (of Paul Rishell and Annie Raines fame) that a house guest thought we were listening to Annie. Particular high points include the title track, “Crying Won't Help You,” “Bricks in my Pillow,” and the final song, “Every Day and Night.” After many consecutive samples, these were the numbers that stuck in this reviewer's head the most. Sometimes, songs may not particularly make one stand up and rave, but at least listeners will remember these four after the final notes of this CD die down.

What inspired Herula to perform the songs on this, her second album? What drew her to Nighthawk and his life experiences yielding pure blues? In the liner notes, she reveals: “Few people know that Nighthawk wrote varied and beautiful songs over several decades that are relatively unknown. I had the good fortune of performing these songs for the Robert Nighthawk Centennial Commemoration at the 2009 Chicago Blues Festival.” She has certainly done him credit here, with her heartfelt homage!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 31 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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