Review: Jay Gaunt – Harmonicopia

Posted on: Monday, Nov 1, 2010

(Self-release: JBG Music LLC)

Here’s a most enthralling and daring second release from young harmonica ace, Jay Gaunt – a 12-track release, “Harmonicopia” features seven vastly varied instrumentals and five tracks featuring the big voice of singer and pianist Victor Wainwright – just on vocals here. The recording is very much a ‘Made in Memphis’ outing – recorded at the late, great Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios, and with top local players such as Skip Pitts, Dave Cousar and Josh Roberts on guitars, the ace rhythm section of Steve Potts (drums) and Dave Smith (bass), along with Lester Snell and Rick Steff on keyboards and a stellar horn section.

Gaunt, like one of his mentor’s, Jason Ricci – who co-produces some numbers here – is a most inventive and melodic player with outstanding virtuosity for such a young man. It’s hard to pigeon-hole this as a straight blues album as it is so varied, and all the better for it.

Proceedings get underway with a funky trip through tenor sax man Eddie Harris’s “Listen Here”, with the punchy horns of Jim Spake, Gary Topper, Lannie McMillan and Marc Franklin sharing the spotlight with Jay Gaunt’s sparkling harmonica work; The Allman Brothers “Midnight Rider” sees Gregg Allman’s vocal replaced by Gaunt’s weeping harmonica, with the New Memphis Strings giving the piece an almost orchestral feel.

The original “Catnip”, one of four co-writes by Gaunt and Kathy Shepherd, again sees a sterling contribution from the horn section and embellished by some impressive high-register harmonica work. Victor Wainwright first appears on a gritty cover of the late Bobby Charles “Why Are People Like That?”, with slinky slide solo from Josh Roberts, who trades licks with Gaunt here . . . a definite highlight. Muddy Waters “Louisiana Blues” sees some tough Chicago flavoured harmonica, with another impressive Wainwright vocal, with this time, Dave Cousar on guitar and electric washboard from Cody Dickinson . . . of the famed North Mississippi Allstars and Hill Country Review.

“Home Of The Blues” is a nod to Memphis co-written by Charley Burch, a slow blues again featuring Victor Wainwright; Burch’s “Devil Dealt The Blues” is a jaunty Jimmy Reed type shuffle, with Jay Gaunt’s fluid lines in and out of the vocal. For a quite different direction check-out the beautiful version of “Greensleeves” . . . the Larry Adler-like harmonica enhanced by the harp playing of Lyrika Holmes. Another gem is the swinging instrumental “Double Shuffle”, a twin harmonica showcase, with fellow player Brandon Bailey aboard, and driven in glorious fashion by the ‘engine room’ of Dave Smith and Steve Potts.

This highly recommended album ends with a cover of Peter Green’s “Rattlesnake Shake”, fine slide again here by Josh Roberts, with Gaunt replicating Green’s original guitar hook . . . a suitably memorable closer, showing that the future of the humble harmonica is safe and well in the hands of such a skilled practitioner as this young man. Don’t think I mentioned it, but he’s just 16 years old!


Jay Gaunt

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