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CD REVIEW -- Donna Herula


The Moon Is Rising

DH Records 

Donna Herula Moon CD

By Liz Mandeville

For lovers of traditional acoustic blues, Donna Herula’s new self- produced CD, The Moon Is Rising, is a must buy!  Donna and her musical partner, harpist John Jochem, were the Windy City Blues Society’s choice for solo/duo act in the 2011 International Blues Challenge. I caught up with Donna in Memphis where she and John told me of their collaboration and Donna's passion for Robert Nighthawk’s music.  Her years of intensive study of his work culminated in a performance at the Robert Nighthawk Centennial Commemoration at the 2009 Chicago Blues Festival and in the recording of this disc.

For people who were getting their blues on early Sunday mornings at Chicago’s Maxwell Street Market in the 1960s, The Moon Is Rising will be a reminder of those halcyon days as all 12 tracks are “the songs of Robert Nighthawk.”  One of Maxwell Street’s regulars in that decade, Nighthawk, a native of Helena, Arkansas, brought the driving hill country blues, complete with its dark humor and storytelling to Chicago’s most famous market. On Moon, Herula pays loving tribute to the Maxwell Street troubadour with new arrangements of some of his classic tunes as well as some of his favorite covers.

All twelve tracks are played in the same open tuning that allows Herula to work her slide and finger picking magic. She moves deftly between chords, slide and melodic single note runs with precision and authority, alternating between a National Steel Resonator, Triolian or Tricone guitars. Rather than being monotonous, the tuning helps create an ambiance that’s consistent throughout the album. These tunes are all related; they all belong on this record together. It’s like sitting down with a friend and her guitar on the back porch for a Sunday afternoon hootenanny. Pass the jug.

The CD’s opening track, “Take It Easy Baby,” sets the tone with its driving acoustic guitar and backbeat supplied by Donna stomping a tambourine with her foot. The tune features a couple passes by John, whose unaffected, country blues harp playing is featured on five of the twelve tracks.

The title track, “The Moon Is Rising,” has an easier, more laid back feel with swirling resonator, multi-tracked with Inna Morris Meinkov’s haunting violin to give the feel of mist rising over the river.

“The Return Mail Blues” features an almost lyrical guitar line that calls and responds to the vocal track, typical of most arrangements on the disc. Donnas’ husband, Tony Nardiello, adds a layer of guitar to this and four other tracks.

Donnas’ vocals are clear and youthful, impassive but serious. This is no barrel-housing blues mama, but a simply stated guitarist accompanying herself with a voice which is inflected the same whether she’s singing about her lover in “Jackson Town Man” or how she’s going to “…take all her troubles and throw them in the deep blue sea.” On “Cryin Won’t Help You” Donna displays some of her most sophisticated vocal phrasing, but my favorite song on the album is the closing track, “Every Day and Night” in which the singer gives sage advice on life and love: “Never dog a man when you know you’re doing wrong yourself,” ruefully recalling how that misplayed act has fallout that means he’s with somebody else.

The Moon Is Rising is a fine sophomore effort from a serious young blues lady with guitar skills to rival any man! Look out world, Donna Herula is sliding on in.

To purchase the CD and to see Donna’s schedule, visit:


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