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n ew r el eas es

HELEN ROSE
Trouble Holding Back
No label – No #

There’s no denying that Helen Rose leans
more towards blues than bluegrass. She has
a lean, sultry voice and an edgy attitude that
assures her independent spirit. All it takes
is a listen to the razor-sharp riff of opening
track Love and Whiskey, a song that recalls
the old Bob Seger standard Come to Papa, or
the deliberate defiance and well-paced finger
one of the most innovative voices of the next snaps that delineate the pacing of the follow-
Notably, too, it’s difficult to distinguish generation of blues harmonica players. With up track, the descriptively titled Flatlands of
those newer offerings from the archival entries, Hindi Man Blues, Kumar doubles down on North Dakota. She is, she insists, like her
given that the performances are so consistent his idiosyncratic enterprise with a fresh set of mother: “Got a family of five, raising the girls
throughout. Little Jerry Jones’ rendition of material drawn from the same dual wells. on my own, doing all she can to keep the
Smokestack Lightning, one of several Howlin’ Of course, Kumar is not the first harp lights on.”
Wolf classics included here, is every bit player to successfully meld the blues with Blues, like bluegrass, is an archival
as riveting as many a rendition that’s been genres that might at first seem like strange form of Americana, and the ties between the
provided before. Mettalia’s determined delivery bedfellows. Charlie Musselwhite’s foray two are obvious in ways they relate to the
on his own Midnight Call meets the high bar into Cuban blues with 1999’s Continental Everyman, or in this case, the Everywoman.
set by Wolf and the other artists whose work Drifter, Corky Siegel’s classical chamber blues Rose’s hard-bitten style makes that connection
is represented as well, but it’s the authority and Wade Schuman’s work with the eclectic clear, whether she’s unleashing a torrid wail
and execution that makes every track seem troupe Hazmat Modine all come to mind. But on Memphis Minnie’s When the Levee Breaks
timeless. Jones’ Let’s Make Love Tonight offers Kumar stands out in ways that challenge the or delivering with due diligence the solid
yet another example of how credence and standards reviewers typically rely on when stomp of John Coltrane on the Jukebox, a
conviction all but ensure authenticity, especially assessing a new harp record. Indeed, describ- song that takes a dig at modern mores. To her
when it comes to bellowing the blues. Indeed, ing this breathtaking release as “unique” or credit, Rose allows her impassioned vocals to
if any further convincing is called for, a listen to “innovative,” while accurate, fails to capture shine at the fore; the arrangements are modest
Jones’ vocal and slide guitar on Dust My Broom the scope of Kumar’s vision. in most cases, stripped back to basics, all in
should be all the evidence needed. Collaborating with Kumar to realize that the interest of conveying authenticity. Indeed,
Ultimately every selection stands out, vision are several veterans of the West Coast Rose’s music suggests a sound that’s of a de-
making Chicago / The Blues Legends / blues scene, including Marty Dodson, Jim Pugh, cidedly vintage variety. Whether conjuring up
Today an ideal homage to one of America’s Bob Welsh, June Core and Kid Andersen, who the swampy realms of the bayou on the slinky
most significant musical mantras. It’s rever- co-produced the sessions. The album opens Mississippi Moon or revelling in the glory of
ence, not reinvention, that’s found here, and with the spirited Dum Maaro Dum, the hit title The Mountain, she shows she’s capable of
that makes this a telling tribute. It leads one song from the 1971 Indian film Hare Rama Hare recreating an aura and imagery in ways that
to believe that those originally responsible for Krishna. Kumar complements its Bollywood- serve tradition as well as tenacity.
shoring up this sound would heartily approve meets-1960s British spy films vibe with a bluesy Consequently, Trouble Holding Back,
of each of these powerful performances. third position harmonica solo. Rose’s remarkable studio debut (a previous
—Lee Zimmerman Several other tracks, such as Ajeeb album, Live at the Monkey Room, cap-
Daastaan Hai Yeh and Sajan Re Jhoot Mat tured her in concert) is a defining document
Bolo, are also inspired by Indian television for a woman who quickly found her voice.

AKI KUMAR programs. The instrumental Watermelon Man
gets a bluesy, ska-inflected treatment here, and
Produced by Marvin Etzioni, the former
lynchpin with the band Lone Justice, and
the addition of Andersen’s electric sitar offers engineered by Jeff Peters (The Beach Boys)
Hindi Man Blues a compelling contrast to Herbie Hancock’s and Sheldon Gomberg (Ben Harper, Charlie
original composition. Kumar even takes number Musselwhite), the descriptively titled effort
Little Village Foundation – LVF 1017
45 to task in All Bark No Bite, an unflinching boasts a myriad of decisive influences—
In 2016, Aki Kumar turned heads with Aki contemporary protest blues in the Delta style. Rhiannon Giddens, Bobbie Gentry, Janis Joplin
Goes to Bollywood, an unprecedented Various iterations of the blues idiom and Bessie Smith, among them. Yet, like any
project that fused blues with Bollywood- are deeply embedded throughout the album, music that resonates so reliably, it conveys
style Indian pop—two genres not known for including the more Bollywood-centric tracks. uncommon conviction and an emotional
breaking with tradition. The unlikely union led Even those who prefer their blues in three investment by the artist. According to the bio
Jason Ricci to lovingly pronounce it a “market- chords and 12 bars will find much to love posted on her website, Rose camped in a tent
ing nightmare” in the album’s liner notes, but with Hindi Man Blues. in her uncle’s New York apartment and toiled
it went on to establish the Mumbai native as —Roger Gatchet in the service industry to scrape together

62 • LIVING BLUES • August 2018