by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger
Album Review of Harmonica Shah and Howard Glazer: Ain’t Gonna Worry About Tomorrow (Electro-Fi Records)
Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee; these are just some of the famous duos, past and present, that have graced the American blues landscape. Although, perhaps not on that level of notoriety, Detroit heavyweights Harmonica Shah and Howard Glazer are certainly deserving of such stature. As a duo they’ve played their fair share of festivals and club dates throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Canada. They’ve also had successful solo careers and partnered with other legendary blues figures like Emanuel Young, Honeyboy Edwards, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Mel Brown. They’ve also recorded together in the past, but it’s been far too long. However, that all changed when Andrew Galloway of Electro-Fi Records signed them to a deal and got them back in a Detroit studio in early 2020.
Harmonica Shah is a one-of-a-kind character whose stock in trade is spinning off the cuff improvisational lyrics and hot harmonica fills to match. Howard Glazer is a master craftsman when it comes to the guitar. Whether it’s electric, acoustic, slide, Dobro, jazz, folk, rock, or whatever, he deftly works it all into his signature sound. Joining them are Detroit area vets Mike Blaszkiewicz on guitars, Steve Glazer and Ben Moore on bass and Skeeto Valdez on drums.
“Reality Blues (I’m Too Old to Be Your Man)” opens the disc in fine form, with a mid-tempo blues shuffle. Shah humbly sets the record straight with a woman in question that he’s simply too old to be carrying on with a relationship. Perhaps the generation gap is represented here in full effect.
They keep that mid-level groove happening with the next number, “My Bottle is My Bank Account.” This is an all too familiar tale of money changing everything. And fair weather “friends” will only be around as long as that money holds out. Shah has a folksy way of cutting to the chase with these kinds of human nature mini-dramas.
Sans drums, “Pretty Girl, Pretty Girl” almost puts the listener in a trance via Glazer’s oscillating and floating chords. Subtle harmonica shadings and Blaszkiewicz’s acoustic interplay give this a haunting swampy feel. “When My Wife Comes Home” is kind of a lighthearted tale. It’s a straight-up shuffle, with a humorous bent. In it, Shah entices his woman to stay the weekend and watch cable TV. But, ultimately, she’ll have to go Sunday night when his wife returns home. Uh, oh… there’s the rub! This features some tasty call and response soloing from the harmonica man and Glazer.
“Dirty Bastard Blues” has a really loose and live feel. It’s one of those self-effacing tracks where the band hits “record” and lets it fly. Everyone hits their musical marks, but Shah cracks up laughing in between lines of the song. It’s just got that nightclub vibe where you could picture him reacting to crowd response. Glazer really digs in here, with some great single note lines and incendiary leads. Fenton Robinson’s “Somebody Loan Me a Dime” is a classic that gets respectful coverage here. It’s a slow blues that features one of Shah’s better vocals and searing chicken pickin’ by Glazer.
“(I Just Wanna Be) Your Floormat” has a swing and shuffle to it. The rhythm section keeps a nice open pocket that gives room for some exceptional solos between the co-leaders. “Please Respect Me” finds Glazer really working various tonal registers on his axe. From a trebly single-coil attack to a grittier approach, he covers a stunning sonic spectrum. This is also Shah at his most vulnerable, where he pleads with his woman not to cheat on him. “She Penetrates My Mind” is another slice of life narrative where sometimes a certain kind of loving can be too strong. Shah sings “She’s got the kind of lovin’ that’s terrifying. Every time she loves me she penetrates my mind.” It’s a backwoods juke joint kind of song that will stick in your psyche for some time.
Chester Burnett’s classic “Who’s Been Talking?” is a spirited cover that gets a nice New Orleans swing feel. The mean, low down lyrics are offset by an uplifting and vibrant groove. Paul Marshall’s “So Many Roads” features a great Shah vocal along with some very agile harp runs. It’s a slow blues burner where Glazer employs great control and a skilled use of dynamics. “First Train South” is the sole instrumental on the album. It essentially spotlights the duo and really shows the strength of this co-led blues machine.
The title track “Ain’t Gonna Worry About Tomorrow” saves the best for last. It’s a hopeful sentiment that features a jazzy groove from Valdez and stellar interplay from Shah and Glazer. Anyone that follows the Detroit and Southeast Michigan blues scene should be very familiar with Shah and Glazer’s festival and nightclub work. But it has been many years since they laid any tracks down in a formal studio. Kudos to Electro-Fi Records. It was well worth the wait!