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Jimmy Sweetwater - Jimmy Sweetwater

It’s hard to object to an album like this six-song EP from San Francisco blues harp mainstay Jimmy Sweetwater. A study in essence, its bare-bones production and simplicity of composition is almost punk-like in its economy. The only things you’ll hear on this album are Jimmy’s voice, Jimmy’s harp, pal Craig Ventresco’s guitar, and the fuzz of a four-track recorder. In an age of Pro Tools, these six songs are a welcome change of pace.

On such a traditional blues record, it’s difficult to talk about the merits of specific musical aspects. The guitar work is more than competent, Sweetwater’s harp is on fire, and his voice has a surprisingly emotive range. But this really only describes half of the album’s allure. Over the course of six covers, Jimmy Sweetwater gives us a living artifact, a testament to where the blues came from, and concurrently, a commentary on where the blues have gone.

A contention that can justifiably be raised is that Sweetwater offers nothing that we haven’t heard before. His choices in songs are excellent, but it doesn’t change the fact that this album’s foremost concern is the cultivation of a previously existing sound. Still, it feels unnecessary to point this out, and even more unnecessary to fault Sweetwater for his archival nature. Unlike some artists who seek to bring the blues back to the Delta, Sweetwater’s attempts are heartfelt and honest. This may be a history lesson, but it’s a living history lesson.

The only true fault of the album lies in its production, which is uneven from track to track. Half of the tracks are gritty and unpolished, while the others sound inexplicably clean. Even on a single song, the production varies from track to track. For example, on “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” both the harmonica and guitar have a muted, “home recording” feeling to them, while the vocals are impeccably clean. It would have been preferable to retain the “home recording” sound on the entirety of the album, as the songs produced in this manner have a grit to them that makes the reminiscent nature of the album all the more potent.

Regardless of this small snafu, Jimmy Sweetwater’s self titled EP will please most any blues fan. He may be playing songs you’ve heard, but you haven’t heard them this way in a long time. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by John McCormick

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