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Two new albums feature harmonica-playing aces.

Blowing Out the Blues


Two of the best harmonica players on today's blues scene unleash their latest recorded efforts this month. Each takes a different tack into the blues headwinds, but the results in both cases should please fans of traditional and modern styles.

Harp ace Rod Piazza and his band the Mighty Flyers cut loose with swing and plenty of varied groove on their upcoming release, "Beyond the Source." Displaying great ensemble playing that rocks with confidence and breathes with playing room for all, the CD captures a "live" feel. Those expecting a straight blues album might be disappointed since Piazza and his four-piece band stretch stylistic boundaries, but there's enough punch here to please a varied listening audience.

Piazza hits hard from the first count on the opening cut, "What's Goin' On?" The rippling piano licks tossed off by Honey Piazza and the locked-down bass of Bill Stuve on "Shim Sham Shimmy" create some jumping dance-hall jive.

But it's on "High Flying Baby" — about halfway through the CD's 14 cuts — that Rod Piazza really hits stride. With a long harp solo and a vocal that complains about the woman who won't "mend a sock/When I come home all you want to do is rock," the song is one of the album's best.

The instrumental "Easy Baby" also demands notice as an example of the less-is-more approach, while giving each band member a chance to show off his/her talents. "Miss Bee-Havin'" closes out the session with a piano-pounding boogie showcase.

Produced by Rod Piazza, guitarist Rick Holmstrom and legendary Memphis musician/producer Jim Dickinson, "Source" is a tough CD full of fine playing, and it aptly shows why this band received more 2000 W.C. Handy Blues Award nominations than any other band. Maybe the singing isn't great and a couple of the tunes don't seem fully realized, but this tight and tasty outfit whips up a winner in "Source."

If Piazza shows no-nonsense confidence on his new release, Kim Wilson somehow manages to raise the bar with "Smokin' Joint." Wilson, best known for his work with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, is nothing short of incredible as he rips and rolls his way through more than an hour of scorching blues.

Featuring two tight backup bands, this is Wilson's first full-length solo live CD, and he's out to show listeners why Muddy Waters called him the best harp player since Little Walter. Throughout, Wilson astonishes. For "Telephone Blues" he pulls warm, aching tones from his instrument as he slowly builds tension. "High and Lonesome" hits with a finger-popping, midtempo blues groove that's augmented by some fine greasy slide guitar. The instrumental title track finds Wilson playing nonstop with a master's effortless touch. For the closer, "The Lighthouse," Wilson gives listeners a jolt of simultaneous rhythm and lead harmonica.

In addition to his instrumental prowess, Wilson sings with a natural honesty that's never forced. He also knows when to step back and give individual members of his bands plenty of playing time and the results help super charge the project. Wilson wrote four of the tunes and produced "Joint." Longtime fans will find it captures him at his jaw-dropping best while those new to this harp player's wizardry will find it a source for the real blues deal.

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