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Jay Gaunt - Harmonicopia

JBG Music

12 tracks; 49:03 minutes; Suggested

Styles: Harmonica led instrumentals, Full Band Blues

Harmonica phenom Jay Gaunt is only sixteen years old, and he has already opened a fifty year old can of worms by claiming that Memphis can rightly be called the “Home of the Blues.” In a killer Blues song “Home of the Blues,” the lyrics politely allow choice, “...Chicago and New Orleans might be the place you choose; to me Memphis is the one and only home of the Blues.” One thing missing is objective criteria for making that choice. Answer these:

1) Which city has the largest number of steadily-working Blues musicians?
2) Where can you hear live Blues music seven days per week, 365 days per year, in multiple
clubs devoted entirely to the Blues?
3) Which city has the largest free Blues Festival every year?
4) Which city has the most active and influential Blues record labels?
5) To which city do guitarists, harp players, drummers, and vocalists from all over the U.S.
and the world relocate just to play the Blues?

The answers are in a 1936 song by Robert Johnson, “Sweet Home CHICAGO.” Oh, well, it’s just a fun rivalry anyway. And, to be fair, Jay Gaunt, from Mahwah NJ, didn’t write the lyrics, one of the producers did, Memphis maven Charley Burch.

The buyers of this highly recommended CD, Gaunt’s second, get a two-fer. There are seven instrumentals in an impressive variety of styles, and the other five songs feature Memphis vocalist Victor Wainwright nailing each with tough, growling, emotionally powerful singing. Recorded at the late Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios, Gaunt is backed by a competent all-Memphis crew: guitarists Josh Roberts, Skip Pitts, and Dave Cousar, keyboardists Lester Snell and Rick Steff, bassist Dave Smith, and drummer Steve Potts along with the Royal Horns and New Memphis Strings. Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell adds percussion and joins Burch producing along with harp standout Jason Ricci who co-produces six songs.

First aired on our “Friends of the Blues Radio Show” was one of the Blues-with-vocals numbers, Bobby Charles’s “Why People Like That?”, featuring the Reba Russell Band’s Josh Roberts on slide guitar. Gaunt steps back for Roberts to take a tasty mid-song slide solo; he then trades back-and-forth licks with Josh in the glorious, final eighty-one seconds of the song. Wainwright’s authentic questioning of selfish people’s motives implies “he” wrote it!

Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues” is given a complete band workout with Bayou night sounds courtesy of North Mississippi Allstars drummer Cody Dickinson on electric washboard. Gaunt excels at channeling and interpreting the original harp of Little Walter. For a quicker tempo, try Jay honking his way through “Devil Dealt the Blues.”

The most unexpected instrumental is a lush production of year 1580’s English ballad, “Greensleeves.” Hearing the CD, my wife hollered in from the other room, “This is a Christmas song and started singing, ‘What child is this...’!” Indeed, the 1865 lyrics to “What Child...” were set to music borrowed/stolen from “Greensleeves.” Gaunt opens on a Harrison Harmonica (a brand claiming to be the only American made harp) blowing pure, clear notes while Lyrika Holmes on a real harp adds beautiful background string work. In amazing harmony, Lester Snell on B3/Wurlitzer keyboards mimics the ending string-harp lines making this jazzy shuffle a real standout.

Allman Brothers fans can name that song in five notes or less (?), instantly recognizing this instrumental version of “Midnight Rider.” Allowing Pitts’s guitar, the Memphis Strings and Royal Horns to open first and set the background, Jay recapitulates Gregg Allman’s vocals using pure tones across the melody with no fuzz.

Absolutely killer is “Double Shuffle” featuring fellow harper Brandon Bailey alternately trading honks and playing harmony with Gaunt.

Across this wonderful CD, I had to keep reminding myself, “Jay Gaunt is only sixteen!” Harmonica Blues is in creative hands, indeed. .

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and longtime Blues Blast Magazine contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL.

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