Al Lerman’s got the Crowe River Blues

Al Lerman did exactly as he sings — he moved out into the woods, but for different reasons than the protagonist in the song “Suitcase Blues”. His album Crowe River Blues is largely the by-product of this move — the cover art reflecting the wondrous change-of-life that moving from city to country can bring.

Al plays many instruments, it seems, and sports a confident vocal ability at the same time.

When I think of Al, however, I hear his harp — which is one of Canada’s finest examples of how good blues harp should be played. So, although Al takes the lead on his first solo record, playing acoustic/electric guitars, tenor sax, harp and handling all lead vocals; it’s his own “Chugging Blues” which is Crowe River Blues’ finest hour. A fine example of what Al can do with a mouthful of harmonica.

As it turns out, Al is much more than a sideman. We see him everywhere — from his Juno-packing band Fathead to the Maple Blues Revue and back. But Al gigs tirelessly as a half of a duo or soloist. He fits in everywhere, but this time he’s out front and immensely capable, as proven here.

The opening track is a beefy blues number cover of Hollywood Fats’ “Suitcase Blues”, delivered at a laidback pace with Lance Anderson’s rollicking piano and Al’s tasteful electric guitar prominent as a relaxed rhythm section completes the picture.

“Gypsy Feet” is another of Al’s ten originals and a solid reminder of his skills as a songwriter. More than mellow, it features acoustic guitar, simpatico backup vocals from bassist/producer Alec Fraser and little else beyond Al’s haunting harp accents. These two could easily be riding a raft down the Crowe River, itself.  Snooky Pryor’s “Judgement Day” provides Al with a solo vehicle for acoustic guitar and harp — likely performed with his feet in the water. It’s got that fly-swattin’, bird-watchin’, sun-worshippin’ country blues feel in tribute to his love of late, Fathead label-mate Snooky Pryor as well as his predilection for Sonny & Brownie.

The soul-searching “Nobody But Myself To Blame” covers Kevin Brown’s original with the sheer power of Al’s strong vocal and tenor sax, Anderson’s boogie-woogie piano and full band kick (Alec Fraser, with Bucky Berger on drums). Al tends to push his vocals, occasionally – sounding slightly more country than country blues at times, or the spirited rhythm & blues he’s known for with Fathead. Sounding not unlike John Sebastian or even Jerry Garcia at times, his vocals nonetheless fit the backwoods camp of what Crowe River Blues represents. Laidback, relaxing, yet soulful and seemingly at peace with the world.  The natural bridge between country and blues, Lerman handles quite naturally on “Blues So Bad I Could Write A Country Song.” He clearly did.

You’ll find many highlights here as Al struts his stuff: “You’re The One” is pure energy and you can visualize him performing this country blues original live, rocking it back and forth. The instrumental, “Harmonica Gumbo” might be shy some Louisiana spice but it sure tastes good – again, a harp showcase with an infectious, percussive bent. Al’s ”I’m Gone” is also a show-stopper – featuring a wall of tremelo’d guitar, tasty harmonies and a memorable, rootsy groove. Everyone can relate to the humourous “Flush Side Of Broke”, spiced up with Al’s thick harp accents and Lance’s Cajun-styled accordion. Al ups the Green ante with “Solar Powered Man”, another uptempo song to close out on, featuring Berger’s perky N’awlins beat and Anderson’s B3 and killer piano.

Crowe River — up near Havelock, Ontario — now has one more reason to be on the map besides its potential for bringing home a muskie. It serves as inspiration to a hard-working musician who proves himself worthy of his rightful piece of the pie.

Torontonians: Don’t miss Al’s CD Release for Crowe River Blues. It’s happening at the Monarch Pub in the Delta Chelsea, this Saturday, February 25th at 3pm. Al will be playing music from the new album, ably assisted by Alec Fraser (bass), Bucky Berger (drums) and Denis Keldie (keys) [subbing in for a touring Lance Anderson]. Special guests are expected and Al will showcase his new music in various combinations of players and with the full band.

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