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Paul Rishell & Annie Raines - A Night in Woodstock

Mojo Rodeo Records

13 songs; 58:25; Splendid

Style: Country Blues; Roots music

When it comes to ancient and authentic blues, the a cappella voice was soon joined by the acoustic guitar, which was rapidly accompanied by the harmonica, forming the classic duo. Among modern practitioners of the latter pairing, Paul Rishell and Annie Raines are recognized as leaders in quality. Their near 20 years of performing together have only sharpened the inherent talent they both brought to the union.

I have wanted to see the pair from the Northeast live here in the Midwest, but my most recent plans were dashed when Paul injured his back during a tour, and the remaining dates were cancelled. So, next best thing is the duo recorded live, in 2005, on this CD with a DVD coming later.

Personally, I have great affection for Dobro guitars and National Steel bodied, resonator guitars played with a slide. Paul Rishell is a proven master on a National Reso-phonic guitar, and he demonstrates such immensely on cut three’s double picked guitar solo in Johnny Winter’s “Dallas.” The steel (slide) on steel (strings) never sounded better.

Track one is an outstanding cover of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Custard Pie” in which Paul’s vocals are so accessible as to be instantly likeable. The harmonica and guitar parts bounce from complementing each other to harmonizing passages - the way two dancers separate for individual moves and then come together as one. That same deep, Country Blues mojo carries over to track two, Tommy Johnson’s “Canned Heat Blues.” Blues purists rejoice, for here are two tracks as authentic as can be done by folks who were not, themselves, the early originators. Do be advised, though, it is a diverse CD of enjoyable Roots music, not just pure blues.

Annie Raines takes over lead on both vocals and harmonica on their original, “Got to Fly.” Think chickadee all around: tweeting harp, flighty bounce and pace of the song, and songbird alto vocals.

For pure fun, a cover of Louis Armstrong’s “Old Man Mose” engages the backing band doing a jug band number: Reed Butler – bass, Billy MacGillivray – drums, Chris Rival – electric guitar.

Special guests Bruce Katz on keyboards and jug band aficionado John Sebastian on harmonica were on hand for this gig which was filmed as part of a Todd Kwait documentary about jug band music. The full band and guests get a good workout on the WC Handy award winning track 10 “Moving to the Country” and track 12 “Blue Shadows” where Katz’s piano is a highlight.

Sebastian and Raines end this set with “Orange Dude Blues,” an instrumental on which only their two harmonicas can be heard – John in the left speaker and Annie on the right. As one takes a turn at lead, the other demonstrates the full sound that gives the instrument the name “mouth organ.”

And, for folks still into album art, even in the CD era, Maggie Zander, a folk artist from upstate New York, created the dollhouse model and miniature props for the album’s cover. The steps, porch roof, shutters, lights, chimney and smoke are fashioned from new and vintage guitar and harmonica parts contributed by National Reso-phonic Guitars and Hohner Harmonica Co.

Nominated for two 2009 Blues Music Awards, this album is definitely a class act from masters and virtuosos at work!

Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL
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