Thursday, March 11, 2021

Big Harp George - Living In The City

Big Harp George.  The name conjures up some man-mountain, his voice growling and groaning the blues, then letting loose a hurricane howl with his harmonica as beads of sweat run down his face.
Well, not so much.  Big Harp George, alias George Bisharat, is a mucho dapper dude in his mid-sixties from San Francisco’s Bay Area, with a neat and sprightly voice to match.  Sure, he plays a harp, but of the chromatic variety that appeals to jazz players, rather than blues blasters embellishing tales of crime, misery and debauchery. On which songwriting note, it’s worth knowing that before he retired from the 9-to-5 our George’s gigs included defence attorney and
Sharp dressed man Big Harp George
Pic by Peggy De Rose
law professor, and he's as sharp with words as you might expect.
All of which is to the fore on opening track ‘Build Myself An App’, which bobs and bumps along in breezy fashion, hinting at New Orleans and laying a diverting foundation for George to share the thoughts of a wannabe app developer who doesn’t know his ROM from his RAM but still harbours hopes of a fast buck.  And his harp break has an airy, swinging tone that sits easily next to the following sax solo.
Other winners include 'Living In The City' itself, and ‘Copayment’.  The former is heralded by cool bass and snapping fingers, to which George adds harp that comes over like muted trumpet.  The verses paint a picture of the urban jungle over a swinging ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’ vibe, and if the chorus is less interesting then George compensates with an appealing harp solo, high-pitched and playing around with the melody, augmented by a brittle, pinging guitar solo.  ‘Copayment’, meanwhile, is a stop-time riffing affair with more swinging horns, on which George gets all snarky as the ordinary Joe discovering the limitations of his medical insurance, leading to some witty dialogue and his final protest that “If I wasn’t sick when I came in here, I sure am now!”  And ‘Don’t Talk!’ is similarly amusing as a lawyer stresses to his client the risks of opening his mouth, over a twitching, pseudo-Latin beat, embroidered with some interesting musical stings and harmonica and trombone solos combining in short order.
Some songs, like ‘Try Nice’ and ‘First Class Muck Up’, suggest jump blues foundations.  But Bisharat often ranges more widely into swingin’ terrain, with the instrumental ‘Bayside Bounce’, for example, springing off from a phrase redolent of the old Benny Goodman standard ‘The Glory Of Love’, and other tunes deploying one Latin rhythm or another.  Which is all well and good, but he takes things too far with ‘Heading Out To Itaipu’, a song that both musically and lyrically references the ghastly ‘The Girl From Ipanema’. I hate ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ George – I hate it!
Down the stretch things get more interesting though, with the slow waltz of ‘Enrique’, piano-led backing underpinned by sparse bass and whispered drums for the crooned story of a troubled brother, and enhanced by melancholy fiddle solo.  ‘Pusher In A White Coat’ sidles in on a slinky opening before developing into a bitter condemnation of medics making money out of misery as they take “incentives” to peddle drugs, with Kid Andersen (who shares guitar duties with the late Little Charley Batey) adding a sharp, spiky guitar solo.  And the closing ‘Meet Me At The Fence’ is a plea for Palestinian dignity that jumbles up a Latin rhythm with Middle Eastern instrumentation. (Bisharat, who has Palestinian ancestry, is a well-known commentator on Middle Eastern law and politics.)
There are thirteen tracks on Living In The City, which is a few too many – and a few are overlong into the bargain.  But I like George’s style all the same, as he combines an acerbic take on everyday life with the swing-era feel of snazzy hotel dance floors.  His sweetly horn-like harmonica playing is impressive too.   All in all, Big Harp George may well be the classiest former criminal defence attorney on the bandstand.

Living In The City is available now on Blues Mountain Records

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