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CD REVIEW -- Zac Harmon
GLT blues radio

Zac Harmon

Right Man, Right Now

Blind Pig 

Zac Harmon Right Man Right Now CD art

By Eric Steiner 

          I’ve always been a fan of Zac Harmon; we volunteered together on the Board of Directors of The Blues Foundation in Memphis for one three-year term, and several years ago, I flew to Dallas to see this Texas-based bluesman play live at the upscale and elegant Brooklyn Jazz Café. (Sadly, that venue closed last year). Zac Harmon’s 2015 debut on Blue Pig Records, Right Man Right Now, features nine originals or co-writes and two covers -- my favorites include the opening original “Raising Hell” that features Lucky Peterson with a lively organ solo and Anson Funderburgh adding some fiery Texas blues guitar to complement Zac’s fluid lead guitar lines.


          Bobby Rush adds his unmistakably feisty vocals and emphatic Mississippi saxophone to Zac’s pleading vocals on the decidedly funky “Hump in Your Back” that also features the lively horn section of San Diegans Les Kepics (from Haute Chili) on trumpet and Chuck Phillips (from The Mighty Untouchables) on sax.


          Lucky, Anson and Bobby, plus 11 other guest musicians join Zac Harmon’s band on Right Man, Right Now: Mr. Buthel plays bass, Cedric Goodman plays drums and Cory Lacy sits in on keyboards. Right Man, Right Now is Harmon’s sixth CD, and just like its 2012 independently-released predecessor, Music is Medicine, showcases some insightful and memorable blues songwriting from an artist who turned his attention to the blues, full-time, over ten years ago. Prior to that, Zac did studio work in California for movies, TV and music, produced the O’Jays, Evelyn “Champagne” King and a Grammy-nominated release for reggae’s Black Uhuru. His return to his first musical love was auspicious; representing the Southern California Blues Society, Zac Harmon and the Mid-South Blues Revue won “Best Unsigned Band” honors at the 2004 International Blues Challenge in Memphis.


          Two songs will resonate with blues fans who follow the news about shootings that, sadly, continue to capture newspaper headlines and devastate communities across the USA. The funky “Back of the Yards” and the slow blues of “Stand Your Ground,” each co-written with songwriter and manager John Hahn, not only highlight Harmon’s sweet tenor vocals and fluid guitar playing, but each song also offers up some prescient observations on the proliferation of shootings that impact many urban neighborhoods in America.


          “Back of the Yards” laments the impacts of poverty and violence in a Chicago neighborhood that once played a key role in the abundance associated with the union stockyards on the South Side, until the prosperous union meatpacking jobs left in the early 1970s. Fortunately for the neighborhood, the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, founded by Saul Alinsky and Joseph Meegan in 1939, continues to pursue equality for new generations of predominantly Hispanic immigrants who call the Back of the Yards home. Unfortunately, this is one of Chicago’s most dangerous ‘hoods with killings of innocent bystanders a frequent occurrence.


          Harmon’s “Stand Your Ground” refers to a Western legal doctrine that allows an individual to use deadly force when he or she is faced with a real or perceived threat. In America, many states have laws on the books that permit the use of deadly force; controversial use of that law played a part in the trial over the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida.


          On his update of John Lee Hooker’s “I’m Bad Like Jesse James,” Zac’s vocals, thankfully, stray far from the polished and smooth dulcet tones that flow on most of the CD; he’s obviously reveling in the opportunity to adopt a “bad boy personae” to deal with another historical, nefarious  archetype named Jody (as in “Jody’s got your girl and gone”).


          The origins of the so-called “Jody myth” likely have roots in World War II when soldiers and marines deployed overseas sang rhyming cadence during physical training; one such ditty was about a man back home who would help out lonesome brides on the home front. (I remember singing “Ain't no use in goin’ home, Jody's got your girl and gone / Ain't no use in goin’ back, Jody's got your Cadillac” during PT in basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey in the 1980s). Zac’s character in “Jesse James” has a buddy just like the mythical Jody who is up to no good with designs on his wife; this sure is a mischievously fun blues song with Zac taking on a new personae as a badass who knows how to dispose of back door men.


          On the title track, Harmon acknowledges that he’s “not Mr. Right, but the right man, right now,” but that’s part of his approach while on-the-prowl for female companionship late at night. Like many songs on the CD, this song is structured around Zac’s fluid guitar attack coupled with his polished vocals. There are also slow blues songs aplenty on Right Man, Right Now, including a love song to a partner who anchors him in “Feet Back on the Ground” and the slide-fueled, up-tempo number about a relationship that simply just doesn’t work, “Ball and Chain.”


          For me, the deep-hued, elegant photography from Darren Carroll sets a new standard in blues photography: the cover of Zac Harmon taken at the Brass House in Austin is memorable as the interior and back cover shots. I thoroughly enjoyed Right Man, Right Now from start to finish and this CD will likely be one of my favorite contemporary blues releases for 2015.


Eric Steiner is the Editor of the Washington Blues Society Bluesletter and a past president of the Washington Blues Society.  He served on the Blues Foundation Board of Directors from 2010 to 2013, and he is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Blues Guide.


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