A Black & Tan Ball (Independent)
Pitched as Black Americana, this wonderful release is simply a revisiting of age-old folk and blues classics played with a freshness and energy like few before them. Seattle duo Hunter & Seamons have joined forces with Washingtonian Phil Wiggins (of Cephas & Wiggins fame) to release a joyous collection of 13 historic songs embracing folk blues, work songs, and the country jazz of the old South.
Launching with the riotous murder ballad first made famous by Louis Jordan, Do You Call That A Buddy, Wiggins’s sensational harp and rough-hewn vocals take the lead as Ben Hunter’s fiddle and Joe Seamon’s guitar hold court. The blistering instrumental Shanghai Rooster captures the joy of this ensemble as banjo, fiddle, and harmonica swing wildly as one. The Mills Brothers’ How ’m I Doin’? features all three voices in this mandolin and harp-driven flashback. The jazzy swagger of Struttin’ With Some Barbeque is credited to Louis Armstrong yet the bouncy guitar/harmonica/fiddle treatment offered by this tight threesome makes it their own.
The traditional John Henry has been heard a million times before but this trio reinvents it live, as banjo and rich fiddle tones join with harp and a fine vocal from Ben Webster to breathe fresh life into it. Also live, Webster takes Leroy Carr’s Longin’ For My Sugar and, with an economy afforded by harp, mandolin, and guitar, there’s nothing lost in this spirited, piano-free rendition. In fact, this trio has the ability to treat these historic classics as a sacred starting point, fleshing out their sound as the spirit that gave birth to them takes them over.
Ben Hunter bites into Bullfrog Blues with a conviction that does the 1928 original proud, returning it to his impressive beginnings while distancing it from its ’70s counterparts as Wiggins’s wall o’ harp and Seamons’s acoustic guitar give chase. Closing on the soulful, banshee wail of Stop And Listen, harp, guitar, fiddle, and foot stomps pay tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks’ timeless string band sound while adding some urgency of their own.
Webster, Wiggins, and Seamons exhibit a sincere reverence for these originals and have the impressive musical ability to return them to their rustic beginnings, imbuing them with fresh energy, adding new musical dimensions in the bargain. A true treat for the ears and some of the best history homework you’ll unearth this year.