Los Angeles, Zac Harmon "From The Root" CD Review, by Jerry Rosen

Posted on 11/12/2009 by Monica Yasher

Zac Harmon is originally from Mississippi, but has made Los Angeles his home base since the eighties.  Harmon started out in LA behind the scenes, producing and writing songs for the likes of the O’Jays, Whispers, Black Uhuru and others.  However, his life long dream was to be a featured performer.  In 2002 he released his first CD, “Live at Babe & Ricky’s Inn,” which was a homage to his Mississippi roots.  Zac and his band the Mid South Blues Revue won the 2004 International Blues Challenge contest, in the “Best Unsigned Band Category,” sponsored by the Blues Foundation.  This award jump-started his career.  His second CD, “The Blues According To Zacariah” gained wider radio play, including XM, Sirius and the American Blues network.  In 2006 Harmon won XM’s “Best New Artist Debut” award.  Since then he has continued to win awards and gain praise for his work. 

Harmon was recently signed by the well-known Canadian label, Northern Blues and released the CD “Zac Harmon From the Root,” which we are now reviewing.  Northern Blues is a label devoted to recording and releasing eclectic roots music, including blues.  Many of their artists have gained international reputations and they seem to do a good job in promoting their releases and helping their artists break out from local to national and international acts. This transition is most definitely quite difficult and without a label such as Northern Blues, it is virtually impossible to get much recognition. Northern Blues has helped people such as Janiva Magness and Otis Taylor gain wider notice.  Most likely this release will do the same for Harmon.

“From the Root” is a solid release.  It is characterized by Harmon’s ability to write and play across several genres.  Of course, his music is grounded in the blues and the blues tunes on the CD are excellent.  He gets the show started with the tune “Don’t Give Me Another Reason,” a groove oriented blues number that is a perfect song.  The lyrics, singing and music all meld into a perfect stew for this song.  I played this song a half dozen times, in my car, before going to the second track.  It is a good time tune, which emphasizes the singing and lyrics.  Too many blues artists these days sacrifice the song in favor of endless, repetitive, mind numbing, soloing.  Harmon is too much of an accomplished musician and producer to make this mistake.  He adeptly mixes catchy lead work, with strong lyrics and propulsive rhythms.  This song, while grounded in tradition, has a modern texture to it.  Harmon is not bashful about using a bit of overdrive on his amp, which gives his blues a slight rock edge.  This is a good strategy because it shows that blues music of the past can connect with more current styles.

However, on his “Keep the Blues Alive,” he appropriately rolls back the distortion and plays clean, stinging,  traditional blues lines, which demonstrates his ability to play the “real deal blues” as good as anyone today.  On this tune, we can hear how his blues predecessors have influenced Harmon. But it is Harmon’s mission to help keep the blues alive.  Not coincidentally he is on the Board of Directors of the Blues Foundation. “Hattie Mae” is another song firmly rooted in the blues and the repeated riff is straight from the tune “You Don’t Love Me,” (but the blues version, think Magic Sam, not the rock version).  Like sex, blues is about establishing the repetition of a great groove and the best blues artists get this.  Harmon is at the head of the “groove class.”

I particularly dug his “Want Ads” track.  This is a soul number, which reminded me a bit of Eddie Floyd’s Stax work.  This was an extremely impressive song in which Harmon plays some tasty fills and highlights his strong vocal skills.  The tune leaves little doubt that Harmon is equally adept at playing blues and soul.  The CD also features a bit of reggae, rock and more blues.  It is truly an impressive outing.  The musicianship of the backing players is outstanding and Jimmy Z’s work on the harp clearly adds to the overall vibe of the release.  I know it is tough to sell CDs these days, in the stores, but you need to order this CD immediately.  Harmon has established himself as a front line blues/roots performer and he deserves our support.

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