In session

I saw B.B. King a few times through the years, and he always talked about the many colors of the blues. When given the opportunity to comment on other blues artists that he may not have liked, he would retreat to the same refrain. Using that phrase is a good way to stay out of trouble, but aside from solid dissembling attributes, it also has the benefit of being true.

Harvey Mandel
Snake Pit
(Tomkins Square)

Harvey Mandel plays heavy blues with just a bit of boogie and 60s soul. He hasn't had a solo album find wide release in almost 20 years, and this one was apparently put together in a couple of days. Given his resume (Google him; I don't have room to begin to cover the breadth of his career), that probably makes sense. Mandel dispenses with lyrics, allowing his impressively varied guitar technique do the talking.

That is, he can go from understated blues to metallic shred in about two seconds. He doesn't mind wandering the wilds of space, and there's plenty of chock-a-block here, too. The band is also impressive. Mandel plays off each of his mates in true jazz style, and he gives each of them a moment or two in the sun.

Tomkins Square is best-known for its roots artists and re-issues, but this squall of an album is not out of place at all. Mandel illustrates the intersection of the blues and rock in eight songs. A 40-minute master class, if you will. The geeks will love this set, but it has plenty of charms for the casual listener as well.

Mandel may not quite paint a rainbow of colors of the blues, but he's got a pretty wide palette (including an "Ode to B.B."). These songs occupy similarly disparate spaces in sound. "Something for everyone" often means watered down. Here it means awesome.

Jon Worley

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