Good Luck Man

Carey Bell

Alligator Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


As much as I love the blues, the one variation I've never quite warmed up to was when the harmonica is the lead instrument. It's not that I've hated hearing this, but I've never quite heard anything that has blown me away. In fact, it wasn't until I heard John Popper trying to suck the reeds out of his harps with Blues Traveler that I knew just what could be accomplished with these things.

Carey Bell is a bluesman who is out to change that. He's got an impressive resume: educated in the ways of the harp by Big Walter Horton and Sonny Boy Williamson, toured with the likes of Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, took part in the "summit" of blues harmonica wizards on the album Harp Attack!

With his latest release, Good Luck Manmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , Bell tries to inject the enthusiasm of the live show into the studio. While that translation doesn't always work, it is, overall, a decent enough blues album.

The opening track, "My Love Strikes Like Lightning," is one of the best songs on the album, and is a great way to kick things off. The interplay between Bell and lead guitarist Steve Jacobs is fun to listen to; you can hear a chemistry between the two bandmates that isn't always present in a band, blues or otherwise.

The first portion of the album - including tracks like "Sleeping With The Devil," "Bell Hop" and "Love Her, Don't Shove Her" - remain some of Good Luck Man's strongest moments. Bell's harmonica work and vocals both shine in these tracks - even though nothing tops Bell's live performances.

Things get a little bogged down midway through the album, though the title cut is a decent enough effort. Songs like "Bad Habits," "Hard Hearted Woman" and "Teardrops" all seem to melt together, providing nothing that stands out on the tracks. However, Bell and crew show the lag is only temporary on other cuts like "I'm A Business Man" and "Going Back To Mississippi".

The inclusion of two instrumentals on Good Luck Man - "Double Cross" and "Bell Hop" - give the band ample room to break loose and just jam free, but these moments seem to pass all too rapidly. While I'm not suggesting that Bell shouldn't sing (he's a better vocalist than some may give him credit for), it almost seems like when it's just stripped down to the instruments, things flow more naturally. (To be honest, I would think that an all-instrumental album from Bell may be a tad boring - Bell uses some vocal tricks to keep the listener on their toes.)

The only real negative about Good Luck Man is that it does fail in capturing the pure energy of the live show and translating it to your living room. Sure, you'll get a good idea of the capabilities of Bell and his backing band, but Bell's stage presence and tone must be heard in person to be appreciated. I speak from experience.

Good Luck Man proves that Bell is a talent in the blues field who has not been given the credit he deserves - but if he wants to win over more people, he may want to seriously consider doing a live album in the near future.

Rating: B

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Alligator Records, and is used for informational purposes only.