Hootin’ And Tootin’: Paul Lamb
According to his Wikipedia entry, Newcastle-born blues harmonica player Paul Lamb ‘has had a four decade long career … with fans around the world’ so I must apologise for never having heard of him before seeing him perform a blistering set last Saturday night at the Philharmonic’s Rodewald Suite.
The advance publicity spoke of Lamb being known by aficionados and music press around the world as one of the greatest blues harmonica players of our time. He generally performs with his band The King Snakes, but either because space at the Rodewald is limited, or because the Phil’s budget won’t extend to a band, what we got was Paul as one half of an acoustic duo with King Snakes guitarist Chad Strentz.
Chad Strentz and Paul Lamb
Lamb began playing the harmonica as a boy, inspired by Sonny Terry, with whom he later performed. He’s been playing clubs since the age of fifteen, sometimes alongside heroes such as Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Brownie McGhee. I’m often wary of the ‘white men playing blues’ thing – although the recreation may be accurate, it rarely seems truly authentic. But, supported by superb guitar-picking from Chad Strentz, Lamb’s blowing and wailing harmonica was truly impressive. Adding to the pleasure of seeing masters of their instrument put on a storming performance was their repertoire: branching out from traditional blues to embrace soul, country and pop numbers in terrific versions of songs such as ‘Take These Chains’, /’Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Games People Play’ .
There’s a detailed review of the show on the Blues in the Northwest website, from which I quote:
The show started with their own ‘The Underdog’ – one of only a few originals on the album – before a first dip into the Ray Charles songbook for a passionate ‘Take These Chains’, beautifully sung by Chad, with Mr. Lamb adding some glorious acoustic harmonica. Other first set treats were the Professor Longhair number ‘Ya Ya Blues’, taking us back to N’Awlins; then another cover from a soul giant – the late Solomon Burke’s timeless ‘Cry To Me’.
Paul Lamb’s showcase tribute to Sonny Terry, ‘Hootin’ And Tootin’” saw him amply demonstrate his brilliant harmonica playing; with a most enjoyable first set ending with a Ray Charles/Johnny Cash medley on ‘I Got A Woman’/’Folsom Prison Blues’ . . . given a rockabilly feel by Chad Strentz’s driving acoustic guitar and, of course, wonderful vocals.
After a short break the duo were back, opening up with their adaption of the George Gershwin tune, ‘Summertime’, retitled ‘Summertyne’ as a nod to Paul’s native North East, with some quite beautiful chromatic harmonica playing. Chad was back in the spotlight on a Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland number, ‘Today I Started Loving You Again’, before a dip way back in time for Stick’s McGhee’s ‘Drinking Wine Spody Ody’. Paul Lamb took a solo turn on some classic Sonny Boy Williamson (II), and delivered more virtuoso harmonica on ‘Fattenin’ Frogs For Snakes’ . . . taking alternate vocal and harmonica lines.
This special night ended with a brace of Big Bill Broonzy songs, ‘Feel So Good’ and ‘Key To The Highway’, broken up in the middle by the gorgeous ‘Careless Love’, an often-covered song that saw Chad featured. A much-demanded encore saw some audience participation on the traditional tune, probably best known for Leadbelly’s version, ‘Midnight Special’ . . . a rousing end to a most enjoyable evening from two great musicians.
Their latest CD: Goin’ Down This Road
Afterwards, I bought a copy of the duo’s latest CD, Goin’ Down This Road that features a generous selection of the songs featured in the show. The album is acoustic and contains a mix of pure blues, some soul and jazz flavours with covers of songs by the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Roosevelt Sykes, Sonny Boy Williamson, Ray Charles and Lloyd Price. The album opens with ‘The Underdog’, the Lamb/Strentz original with which they began the Liverpool show, and also features that great version of ‘Summertime’. There are lovely accounts of the songs that stood out in the live show: ‘Careless Love’, the Solomon Burke tune ‘Don’t You Feel Like Cryin’ and a fine version of Joe South’s classic, ‘The Games People Play’.
Another outstanding moment in the show had been ‘Hootin’ And Tootin’, Lamb’s tribute to his hero, harmonica legend Sonny Terry, and I was glad to see that that was on the album, too. Chad Strentz provides most of the vocals (he has a very good voice) and plays excellent acoustic guitar throughout. Years of playing together mean the pair have an almost telepathic understanding of each other – something that was apparent on stage and is also obvious on the CD.