Joel Harrison

Mother Stump
Cuneiform RUNE 390

By Ken Waxman

Although he once insisted that growing up in Washington D.C. meant he had no roots, guitarist Joel Harrison has tapped into a rich vein of blues, R&B and traditional music – as well as bedrock jazz – with this CD. Using a collection of guitars and backed by bassist Michael Bates, Glenn Paschal on various keyboards and drummer Jeremy “Bean” Clemons, Mother Stump is a mostly stimulating collection of blues, funk and jazz tunes, but brushes against cloying when the melodies become excessively country-folksy.

Harrison’s arrangement of George Russell’s, “Stratusphunk” and his own “Do You Remember Big Mama Thornton” outstandingly confirm the quartet’s mastery. A showcase for Bates’ rooted walking, the guitarist’s interpretation of Russell’s theme, initially recorded with horns, is done with verve and aplomb. Meanwhile Clemons’ drumming is both solid and irregularly accented. The drummer’s superior backbeat is on display during “…Thornton”, where coupled with Putsch’s B3 power chording, it helps propel the tune to the height of pressurized excitement. Harrison’s solo that’s all spiky string bites add to the frenetic mood. Versions of his own “Refuge”, a grown-up, atmospheric cousin of Santo & Johnny’s steel guitar classic “Sleepwalk”; and Al Kooper’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” cement this impression. With sly keyboard comping plus chunky pumps from Bates, the guitarist’s slurred fingering and sharp chording bring out the jazz essence of the Kooper tune. Other tracks benefit from the same sonic alchemy. Most notably the two versions of Paul Motion’s “Folk Song for Rosie” use cascading lines and countrified finger picking anchored by pressurized rhythms to confirm both the folk and jazz basis of the tune(s).

Excessive folksiness sabotages some of the other tracks though, including Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and two versions of Buddy Miller’s “Wide River to Cross”, despite powerful Garth Hudson-like organ chords on the latter. Obviously sincere in his interpretations Harrison’s love for these forms evidentially also brings out his sentimental streak.

That attribute may be pro forma for Nashville country music pickers, but throughout the rest of the CD Harrison proves he and his band mates are capable of so much more. Listening to the high quality evidence here, the likelihood is that this is just one variant of his talent in a burgeoning career.

Tracks: 1. John The Revelator 2. Folk Song for Rosie #1 3. Refuge 4. I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know 5. Stratusphunk 6. Suzanne 7. Wild River To Cross (Pt.2) 8. Do You Remember Big Mama Thornton 9. Dance with My Father Again 10. Wide River to Cross (Part 2)

Personnel: Joel Harrison (electric, National Steel, acoustic, baritone guitars); Glenn Patscha (Fender Rhodes piano, Hammond B3 organ, Wurlitzer piano); Michael Bates (bass) and Jeremy “Bean” Clemons (drums)