Live At Labatt
Delta Groove DGPCD128
Mitch Kashmar, a native of Santa Barbara, California, is proud the West Coast has their own sound. He is equally proud to be a West Coast harp player. He made a name for himself as leader of The Pontiax and released his solo debut album Crazy Mixed-Up World in ’99. His 2005 Delta Groove release Nickels & Dimes jump-started his career.
Recorded live on August 24, 2007 at the Edmonton Labatt Blues Festival in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, this lively set is loaded with energy and harp blasts that range from soft to shrill. Each of the ten songs – featuring four from his two Delta Groove CDs – is greater than five minutes in duration. With his bellowing instrument, Kashmar leads the band like the Pied Piper led rats into the river.
The members of the band (former Pontiax drummer Tom Lackner, bassist Steve Nelson, pianist Jimmy Calire, and former William Clarke guitarist John Marx) are as impressive as the bandleader. Together they create a refined and bouncy sound. Each member plays their respective solos in a laid-back manner, and no one tries to astonish with quantity.
With friendly-sounding vocals, Kashmar warms up the crowd on the pleasing opener I Got No Reason. He also uses the song to introduce the two main featured soloists (himself and Marx). Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman is pure blues given its arrangement, lyrics, and guitar-focus. Kashmar dedicates the song to his ex, but you get the sense that the fun song is not based on actual events. A masculine spin is given to a famous Bessie Smith song. It is appropriately renamed Evil Man Blues. Here, Calire serves up his own tasty wickedness. Calire impresses throughout, but the recorded level of his keyboards is inconsistent. Kashmar, who also performs with classic ’70s funk-rock band War, strays from the blues on Horace Silver’s popular and jazzy Song For My Father. Lollipop Mama is dedicated to West Coast colleague William Clarke. It’s a no-holds-barred afternoon blues jam rendition. The late Clarke was more than a good friend to Kashmar. Clarke greatly aided him to develop the West Coast sound. Through Marx, Clarke’s influence continues to be a presence as confirmed on Castle Rock. Kashmar learned the song from Marx and it’s the most West Coast sounding song of the rousing set.
Like other West Coast artists, a strong Chicago influence resonates from Kashmar’s harp. He produces a tone that is reminiscent of the city’s golden era on Sugar Sweet (made famous by Muddy Waters and others) and Jimmy Rogers’ You’re The One.
There are plenty of harp solos on the disc. You don’t tire of them because they are not exhaustive from either the listener’s or performer’s perspective. Live At Labatt validates Kashmar is ready to join the ranks of fellow West Coast harpmen like Rod Piazza and Mark Hummel.
A similar version of this review appeared in Living Blues Magazine issue 2002.
Review copyright © by Tim Holek, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.