Harpdog Brown

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The structure and delivery may be as basic as it gets, but the blues is essentially storytelling music.   Whether it's hard times and bad luck or an exuberant expression of joy, there has to be a narrative, and a reason. Posing and posturing just won't cut it.

Harpdog Brown is a bluesman in the classic style.  He understands that the music is about communication, about connecting.  He wrote the bulk of the material on What It Is..., most with assistance from drummer and long-time cohort John Hunter.  They're solid, well-crafted tunes that sound right at home next to the handful of standards included.  And Brown delivers every one with sly wit and sheer charm, spinning his yarns and telling his tales with a nod and a wink and a true raconteur's easy aplomb.

Brown is also an absolute monster on the harmonica.  In his hands it becomes the most expressive and versatile of instruments, moaning, crying, wailing and squalling, full of dazzling flutters and piercing grace notes.  And he's not simply repeating what's been done so well before. The song structures might be familiar, but Brown's endlessly inventive harmonica work expands upon rather than recycling the twelve-bar palette.

He's working here with his road band - Hunter on drums (the two go all the way back to 1983), bassist George Fenn, and relative youngster Jordan Edmonds on guitar. They take a basic, no-frills approach to tunes, the rhythms rock solid, punctuated by Edmonds' churning, spiky guitar. Covers include Little Walter's "Blue Lights" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "In My Younger Days," both allowing Brown to stretch out with some exquisite work on both amplified and acoustic harmonica.  There's also one from the Wolf ("All Night Boogie") and a furiously swinging "Git Ta Gittin' Baby" to go with the uniformly sturdy originals.

In truth the blues, by definition is a limited form.  What matters is the presentation, the delivery - not artifice, but honesty.  Above all else, it has to have feel, that indefinable something that renders it absolutely essential. Harpdog Brown virtually personifies that feel, that exuberance and swing, that inextinguishable life force that ensures the blues remain vital and relevant. 

This is great stuff ... highly recommended to any blues lover, and essential if you're any fan at all of the Mississippi saxophone!

Harpdog Brown is a gifted singer and imaginative harmonica player of note that has been in Canada's Blues scene since 1982. Hailing from Edmonton, Alberta he crossed tens of thousands of miles playing club dates and festivals in Canada, North Western United States and Germany.  Visit his Facebook Page
harpdog brown
Over the years Harpdog has issued 6 CD's to critical acclaim. In 1995 his Home is Where The Harp Is won the coveted Muddy Award for the best NW Blues Release of the year, from the Cascade Blues Association in Portland. As well that year it was nominated for a Juno for the best Blues Release in Canada. Teamed up with Graham Guest on piano, his CD Naturally was voted #1 Canadian Blues Album of 2011 by The Blind Lemon Survey.

"Harpdog is a great blues man. He is in total command onstage – and enjoying every minute. The addition of Will MacCalder is a bonus."
- Holger Petersen, Blues Programmer CKUA and CBC Radio

"Brown is an excellent singer and band leader who reminds me a lot of the late Hock Walsh and he has put together a program that you can often hear in clubs but seldom so well played ........ heavy on blues feeling."
- John Valenteyn, President
Toronto Blues Society

"Isn’t it nice to know that all the “fast food / flavor of the week” blues artist are easily dispensed with when compared with the REAL THING. I mean the bona fide, totally authentic purveyor of heart and soul, down-in-the-alley blues. And, believe you me, Harpdog Brown and the Bloodhounds are purveyors with pedigree."
- Andy “Blues Boy” Grigg, Chief Editor
Blues Review Magazine

“They play the blues naturally and without gimmicks or pretension, and when you combine that with their talent, it places them at the top of their trade…You won’t find a better blues band in Canada.”
- West Coast Entertainment Magazine

“These two bluesmen are just too good to be missed."
- Blues Notes, Portland

“These guys play with passion, emotion and honesty, and instead of overwhelming their audience, with technical genius, they keep it simple except when the time is right for going to town. That’s the essence of Blues”
- Missoula Independent, Montana

“These guys are genuine bluesmeisters, and will make you homesick for Chicago and the Mississippi delta even if you’ve never been to either…They don’t come any better than this.”
-Capitol News, Kelowna, BC

Author: John Taylor

When one considers that the most common type of harmonica is, by definition, limited – the diatonic scale omits flat and sharp notes – it’s astonishing just how expressive an instrument it can be in the hands of a master like Edmonton’s Harpdog Brown.

Above And Beyond, Brown’s latest on his own Dog Breath Records, finds him teamed with fellow Edmontonian Graham Guest, pianist extraordinaire, who spent years working with blues chanteuse Sue Foley among many others. Together they tear through a delightful collection of blues and boogie favorites that’s both intimate and exuberant.

It helps that Harpdog, who hails from Edmonton, is blessed with a big but supple voice and a raconteur’s charm. He approaches each tune from a storyteller’s perspective, with sly phrasing and nod-‘n’-a-wink aplomb that’s just right for the material.

Brown is a disciple of Sonny Boy Williamson, the innovative genius who virtually defined what the acoustic harmonica is capable of, and covers a pair of Williamson’s tunes here. There are a handful of standards recognizable by even the most casual blues fan - “You Don’t Have To Go,” “Rocket 88,” “Big Boss Man,” and “Flip, Flop & Fly” – but the duo setting and Brown’s singular delivery keep ‘em all fresh.
Surprises come with a bluesy romp through Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and the delightful “Canadian Man,” written by Brown’s friend, Steve Pineo. (As a country song it was a hit for Paul Brandt).

Brown sticks to acoustic harmonica for the entire collection, meaning he’s free to employ a full arsenal of hand movements that vary air flow, with the result a dazzling array of tones and expressions, from guttural moans to whoops of joy. Guest is a marvel throughout, providing a solid rhythmic foundation for every tune and embellishing each with sparkling yet seemingly effortless fills that render the lack of additional instrumentation a moot point. Indeed, the two seem to be of one musical mind, audibly responding to each other as the songs unfold
– performances were captured ‘live’ in the studio, with the organic interplay between musicians an integral element in the proceedings. This one’s honest and real, and best of all it’s fun to listen to (and just try to keep your toes from tapping!). Recommended!

All stripped down and ready to party as printed in beat route By Lindsay Wilson

Edmonton’s Harpdog Brown, known for his gritty, raw style of blues that brings the listener back to the days of packed Friday night juke joints filled with shots of whiskey and clouds of smoke, has decided to strip things down and take his blues vocals and harmonica playing to a more
simple place. His first self-produced album under Dog Breath Records, Above and Beyond, stands apart from Brown’s previous three albums, Home Is Where The Harp Is (the 1994 Juno nominee and winner of the prestigious Muddy Award), Unleashed (recorded in 1995, not released until 2008) and Once in a Howlin’ Moon (2001). This new collective of classic blues tunes, covering songs from artists such as Fats Weller, Sonny Boy Williamson and even Calgary’s own Steve Pineo, are vocally-driven, honest and simple. There’s no flash and little instrumentation –
just the Dog on harp and vocals and the fine piano skills of Graham Guest.

“A lot of times in this world, we musicians add more members to the stage to overcompensate for the lack of individual musicality,” explains the Dog. “In this situation, it’s nice to be honest and true, maybe vulnerable, but strong.” “Above and Beyond”, which was recorded in Edmonton’s Homestead Recordings late last month, will not have the traditional welcoming onto the Canadian blues scene through a single CD release party, but through Harpdog Brown and Graham Guest’s mini-tour through March and April.

“This is a choice album of classic tunes – more like a vocal offering from me,” explains Brown. “Everywhere we go is a CD release party.”

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