BREATHE IN THE WORLD, BREATHE OUT MUSIC
Stony Plain Records
Groundbreaking, Genre-Bending and Mind Blowing Harmonica Led Roots Music
It’s not unknown for me to receive albums to review from two different sources; but three???
That’s what happened here; and although I’d never heard of ‘legendary Canadian harmonica player’ Mike Stevens; the thought of three trusted PR companies seeking my opinion certainly piqued my attention a month or so ago.
Opening track Like a Bird is a deceptively sweet soft shoe shuffle; featuring a wonderful vocal performance from Polly Harris (and eventually a ‘choir of Angels’ on the fade). There’s a whole lot going on behind her singing; not least my introduction to Stevens’ fascinating harmonica playing ….. which is as complicated as it is listenable btw.
The temperature is raised when that is followed by Watermelon Pie; a Country-Blues instrumental where Stevens and his harmonica battle it out with Kevin Breid on electric guitar (and slide too!), and the result is nearly epic!
I have a harmonica playing friend; Martin Fletcher who trod the boards for many years with a variety of succesful Blues Bands until he felt restricted by the genre and began making ever more ‘progressive’ music with this under-regarded instrument ….. to ever shrinking audiences.
Mike Stevens is of a similar ilk it appears; using his harmonica in a huge variety of styles that many wouldn’t think suited to it; but in these capable hands (and lips!) works perfectly well.
Our man takes Orange Blossom Special and turns it into something very nearly Avant Garde! To paraphrase Eric Morecambe; ‘All of the notes are ….. just not necessarily in the right order!’ and again, the result is fabulous …… as it is with the mournful The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald which immediatly follows too.
I’ve been a fan of the harmonica since I was a teen and have been drawn to albums simply because that instrument was featured (plus I own 3 VA Harmonica albums that are virtually unlistenable!) but I’ve never heard anyone like Mike Stevens; who takes this tiny musical instrument to new and even dangerous heights on the innovative Put The Phone Down, Devil’s Bride and the sultry Blues Rock ballad, Livin’ in Sarnia which also features Cory James Mitchell on vocals.
Does the world need another version of Amazing Grace?
If you’d asked me four weeks ago I’d have said NO ….. but the way Mike Stevens disembowels the melody then puts it back together again is truly staggering and extraordinary in every way.
In some ways I could have stuck a pin into the track listing to select a Favourite; but putting some thought into the process I’ve narrowed it down to two songs; both of which feature Mike on vocals as well as said harmonica.
Bad In a Good Way is almost Jazz Like in construction; with Kevin Breit providing some organ licks that would have done Blue Note Records proud back in ‘the day’.
The other which just might tip the balance to be the Winner is Devil’s Pride; where Stevens takes us on a darkly intimidating walk down a path that even Tom Waits would think twice about entering ….. and the result; not for the first time here is quite extraordinary.
For a man who, over 35 years in the business has released and featured on too many albums to count; played the Opry over 300 times, won numerous Awards (Canadian and American) and even set up the ArtsCan Charity ….. surely this album is really groundbreaking and will now introduce him to a new audience around the world.
BUY DON’T SPOTIFY