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Ronnie Shellist - 'til Then


12 tracks

I have been wanting to listen to this harp player for awhile now and I was excited to get the CD in the mail for review. Harp greats Charlie Musselwhite and Kim Wilson have glowing words to say about this young harmonica ace and they certainly are correct- Shellist is the real deal.

Two of the tracks are covers and the rest were written by Ronnie. The songs are all well done and done well. Joining Shellist on electric guitar and mandolin (and on one track acoustic guitar) is Gerry Hundt, who arranged 4 of the tracks. Also on electric and acoustic guitars is Jeremy Vasquez who, along with Hundt, co-wrote the opening track with Shellist. These two guitar players are superb accompaniment to Shellist's outstanding harp, and I love to listen to Gerry Hundt play mandolin and welcomed that opportunity, too. The backline of Todd Edmunds on bass and Bob Carter on drums is solid throughout.

The opening track is entitled "Knockin" and Shellist's harp blows hard and strong. The beat and groove is reminiscent to Slim Harpo's "King Bee", but the melody line and harp work is very original and intensely cool. Shellist practically blows the reeds out of the harp. "Mook" is an instrumental take off on Little Walter's Juke with a nice boogie woogie backdrop and some hellacious harp work by Shellist. He certainly is a great harmonica player. The two guitars going back and forth also add nicely to the cut. The title track also features Ronnie and band giving it their all. "Shoes" is a superb instrumental with Hundt's mandolin, Vasquez's acoustic guitar and Shellist's harp intertwining and weaving a very cool sound that was thoroughly fun and totally enjoyable.

Little Walter's "Last Night" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight to the Blind" are the covers that Ronnie pays homage to the greats of Chicago harp with and his playing is quite up to the task. I love to hear his over blows and bending- so well done. He certainly is a bright spot in the harmonica world. and Hundt's mandolin makes Sonny Boy's song sound even better.

What I would offer for criticism are Ronnie's vocals. The passion and intensity of Shellist's harp work is huge, yet his singing style seems to lack that same level of passion. He sings quite well, but it's just not tripping my trigger from an emotional standpoint. The vocals come off at times like he's going through the motions and not into it, but then he stops singing and begins to play and his heart and soul show through so very clearly with his harmonica playing. As I said, the vocals are not bad, but it's far from the inspirational feeling levels I get from his amazing harp work.

This is a great harmonica CD with some fine, traditional blues, both old and new. I was blown away by Shellist's harmonica work and the duo of Hundt and Vasquez on guitar are super accompaniments to Shellist's harmonica virtuosity. If you want to hear a "new" great harp player, you need go no further than this disc.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

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