Blues Is My Life
    
Review By Willard Manus

You wouldn't ordinarily associate Switzerland with the blues--not until, that is, Chris Harper came along. Harper first heard the blues on Swiss radio, then rushed down to his local record store to learn more about the artist who had just blown him away, harmonica master Sonny Boy Williamson.

Harper not only listened to Williamson but began to emulate him. Flash forward to 2008 and the release of Harper's first CD, BLUES IS MY LIFE (Delmark), on which he plays tribute to Sonny Boy by recording his interpretation of Help Me. And what a tribute it is, with Harper playing harp with phenomenal skill while backing up Billy Branch's impassioned vocal.

Harper made it from Switzerland to Chicago (where Delmark is based) thanks to bassist Aaron Burton, who gigged with Harper while touring Europe a few years ago and suggested that the self-taught harpist could benefit from an extended stay in the Windy City, where blues is everywhere in the air. Harper took his advice and benefitted greatly from what he learned playing in clubs and concerts with the likes of Burton, Branch, Chico Banks, Buddy Guy, Vance Kelly and Charles Love, to name but a few.

Harper returned to Europe with Chicago in his blood and joined forces with the Sharade Band, an Italian blues-oriented quintet, to produce his debut CD, BLUES IS MY LIFE, which was mastered by Glenn Miller in Basel and mixed by Steve Wagner in Chicago (with overdubbing by topflight studio musicians and backup singers). The result is most impressive.

Harper sings and plays his heart out on such numbers as Sweet Honey Sunshine, You've Got Me Baby, Lie Lie Lie and Blues Is My Life (all of which he wrote), then teams up with his Chicago pals Banks and Branch, who not only sing but play guitar and harp, respectively.

Probably the best cut on the disc is Blues Is My Life, Harper's paean to the glory of the blues. Joined by Banks on wah wah rhythm guitar, this is a song that starts slowly and conventionally then, backed by the Sharade Band and three Chicago horns, keeps building in intensity and force before exploding, finally, in wild, joyous and triumphant fashion.

Harper may be Swiss but there's nothing neutral about the way he interprets the blues. (www.chrisharper.com)