The saucy Ms. Erin Harpe has a history—no, you salacious male reader bastards, not the kind you're thinking of as you eye her crimson hair, ruby lips, knowing smile, and fishnet stockings! No, her secret is that she was practically born into blues: her dad Neil Harpe, Maryland area blues guy, taught her Delta guitar styles early on, and she performed young for coffee shops, bars, and parties before releasing two solo CDs and then a quintet with her World-funk electro-dance ensemble, Lovewhip, whose handle now carries over. Love Whip Blues marks her debut in the Vizztone label, an imprint which, like the inimitable Yellow Dog line, favors works a few yards outside established genres, and, unless I'm missing my guess (and I never do), that's still within the domain parameters of about 90% of the FAME readership.
Sooooooo…what genre is this, then? Good question. Damned if I have an answer, though. Love Whip crosses many borders from blues to reggae to rock to jug and even to certain reminiscences of Louis Armstong's Hot Five and Hot Seven, especially in Harpe's sweetly erotic vocals and lyrics a la Lil Hardin-Armstrong with Maria Muldaur mixed in. Bob Margolin throws in a to-die-for slide section to The M&O Blues (the Lucille Bogan song, not Willie Brown's darker song of the same title and a guy for whom Harpe has a songwriter's weakness, nor Walter Davis' slice) as Rich Rosenblatt lays down a smoky harp background that soon steps up for its own solo. I mean, for a slo-chug cut, those two really get it going, one of the best guitar / harmonica interactions I've heard in a long long time, until reaching a zenith, fading back as Harpe re-enters, an angel wrapped in heartache, to bring the lament to its close.
Dave Gross dubs in a billion lines all over the place everywhere in the disc on roughly 250,000 instruments (might be slightly less; I ran out of fingers and toes while reading the liner credits) and then tackles another half a million tech duties, and, along with that ice cream and cake voice of hers, Erin plies a cool guitar. If you at any moment doubt the quality, 'cause there are four axehandlers in the disc, listen to One Way Man and then Charles River Blues, the former subtle and complex, the latter in-yer-face and swampy. She knows her stuff. Then Virtual Booty Machine, which is about exactly what you think it is, presents a chirpy boogie two cuts before the disc ends out in a rendition of John Prine's classic Angel From Montgomery. Harpe, though, turns Bonnie Raitt's glum frown and Prine's bayou ennui into a loopy smile, reinterpreting the composition as a larksome afternoon's jaunt filled with tons of hope rather than sad boatloads of regret. If you thought the comp could never work that way, then you need to hear it here. It all depends, y'see, on who's looking through the eyes of the narrator and what they're seeing while doing so.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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