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East Side SlimBy East Side Slim

CD image - Mitch Kashmar – Live At Labatt

Mitch Kashmar 'Live At Labatt'
Delta Groove, 2008

Mitch Kashmar is a well respected harp player/singer firmly out of the West Coast style of harmonica blues Chicago roots with lots of swing. Mitch' s profile has risen considerably since he started releasing albums on the Delta Groove label in the early 2000' s. In fact, he was one of the first artists to be signed to the label. He' s been a steadily working musician in the greater Los Angeles area for a couple decades plus (his early band, The Pontiax, made a bit of noise on the scene), and if there' s any justice or fairness in the music biz (but there rarely is…too many sharks in those waters!) this newest release 'Live at Labatt' should push Kashmar' s career to a higher level yet. This CD was recorded live at Edmonton' s Labatt Blues Festival in 2007 by the Canadian Broadcasting Company. They did a fine job of documenting the proceedings, which was no doubt made easier by the presence of guitarist John Marx (John Markowski). Marx was one of William Clarke' s primary guitar players over the years, and he plays that West Coast bluesy-jazzy style incredibly well. Speaking of William Clarke, he was both a mentor and a personal friend of Mitch Kashmar. You can hear Clarke' s influences in Kashmar' s music, (if you are going to have an influence as a singer and harmonica player, William Clarke would be the man), but you can also hear touches of Lee Oskar' s style. In fact, Kashmar has been touring for the last year or so as a member of Oskar' s old band, War. Kashmar' s style tends to be more raw (more Chicago influenced) than either Clarke or Oskar, but don' t mistake that as a detriment, it is not. It' s just that Mitch seems to truly enjoy playing in that hard Chicago blues style on occasion, without the effects and tricks some players like to use. What you hear is just Mitch, his harps and his amp. He swings, too, and can play nice and pretty when the occasion demands. Mitch is a fine, soulful harp player and singer, and this live CD documents those facts very well. Give the CD a spin, or listen to some song samples on the Internet, and see if you don' t agree with me.

The Songs: (composed by Mitch Kashmar unless otherwise noted)

1. I Got No Reason
This set opener gets things going right away and firmly establishes that we' re going to be treated to a fine set of West Coast swinging blues, of the type played by George Smith, Rod Piazza and William Clarke. This cut is very reminiscent of some of Bill Clarke' s looser work; the tones and themes are very similar and the band sounds like they' re having a ball.

2. Dirty Deal
Ahhh, we' re heading out to Chicago here, folks. I do enjoy the fact that Mitch mixes up his styles well and isn' t afraid to move out of the West Coast style. According to the notes I' ve read, Mitch was born and raised in the L.A. area, but when you listen to him play this style you' d swear his heart is in Chicago. He' s got a great feel for this sort of material.

3. Whiskey Drinkin' Woman - (Lou Donaldson)
Mitch dedicates this song to his 'Ex' telling the crowd 'I said I would play a love song'. He just didn' t tell the crowd that the song was telling of the love his woman had for whiskey! This is a slow Chicago-styled blues, and really the only slow blues on the album. John Marx sounds great here, never getting in a hurry to reach the next note. Very nice!

4. Evil Man Blues - (aka 'Evil Gal Blues' ; Leonard Geoffrey, Lionel Hampton)
This song is best known as 'Evil Gal Blues', made famous by the immortal Bessie Smith. The boys have changed the gender of the song, as well as having picked the tempo up quite a bit. Mitch blows some very cool harp during the intro. This song treads that area William Clarke was so successful with, merging the grit and feel of Chicago blues with the swing and groove of the West Coast school.

5. Song For My Father - (Horace Silver)

Mitch and the band move on from Chicago (blues) here and take a little side trip (almost 10 minutes worth) to the jazzy side, along the lines of some of Lee Oskar' s work. The song swings along very nicely in a laid back fashion, and is a feature for the band's keyboard player Jimmy Calire. John Marx also gets extensive solo time, which is a real treat. East Side Slim really digs this one. If you' re interested in this sort of sound, go out and find a copy of Lee Oskar' s first solo CD, titled Lee Oskar. Look for the dragonfly rider …yes, very 1970's.

6. Sugar Sweet - (Mel London)
Kashmar brings us firmly back to the blues with this song, probably best known from Muddy Waters' version. All you harmonica fans out there will definitely dig this track, as Mitch lays it out there and plays his backside off, as does the entire band. This sounds so nice!

7. You' re The One - (James A. Lane, aka Jimmy Rogers)
I think the boys were enjoying the Chicago blues so much that they decided to say there and tackle one of Jimmy Rogers' most famous songs. This version is a little faster then the original, a little jazzier and definitely swings more, but never loses touch with the original version.

8. Lollipop Mama - (originally written by Roy Brown; arrangement from William Clarke)
William Clarke performed a killer version of this song on one of his Alligator albums, essentially taking the song away from Roy Brown (and others) and making it his own. Mitch and the boys perform this tune as a tribute to Bill Clarke, and say as much during the introduction to the tune. Marx was a longtime band mate of Clarke' s, and Kashmar a long time friend. This tune is solid West Coast harmonica swing blues. Mitch' s voice is not as powerful as Bill Clarke' s was (he had a bullhorn of a voice - amazing!), but he does a fine job here nonetheless.

9. Wake Up & Worry
This is one of Mitch' s own songs. It' s from the West Coast school of blues, one that he' s a proud member of. The lyrics are sure relevant to today, speaking of the credit crunch and maybe getting squeezed a little tightly due to that old temptation…credit cards. This cut swings like crazy and features John Marx' s guitar playing to great effect. Mitch plays a little, too, just so you know.

10. Castle Rock - (Ervin Drake, Al Sears, Jimmy Shirl)
This is the set closer, both on CD and in the live show itself. It' s a jumpin' , swingin' romp, with all the players getting plenty of time to stretch out and show their stuff (always tastefully!), while at the same time keeping together that fine ensemble groove and sound heard throughout the CD.

The Verdict:

The verdict on Mitch Kashmar' s new CD 'Live at Labatt'is all good. Then again, so is Labatt' s Blue, but that' s another subject all together. Back to Mitch… I' ve always thought that the mark of a great live CD is to make you wish you were there in-person. Well, this CD does just that. The band was on, the recording quality was great and the final product (the new CD) is A-1 fine! Mitch' s voice continues to improve as time goes by, and his harmonica skills are first-rate. He' s not a tricky player, and he' s not going to try and fool you by running super-fast scales. He' s a deep player, all feel and emotion and is well aware of the benefit of using the empty spaces as well as the notes. Having John Marx on hand playing guitar is a treat, as we just don' t get to hear that much from him on recordings anymore. Mitch Kashmar and Delta Groove Productions have given us another fine set of blues here; thank you, all. I could continue gushing about this CD, but I' m going to spare you and get to the rating: STLBluesometer rating = 4.50

Lee Howland - aka "East Side Slim"
The STLBluesometer

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