Zac Harmon, American Blues legend from Jackson, Mississippi finally made his first appearance at The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival tonight at The Spiegeltent to a sold out show. Zac and the band have been touring Europe and this performance was their last one on the tour schedule before returning home. As you would expect for a man and a band that have performed all over the world for many years, the sound and the presentation were tight with Zac being in a friendly and jovial mood all evening that connected him immediately with the audience here.
From the very beginning, Zac was clear that he played with the band “Mississippi Blues” and NOT “Chicago Blues”, so with that difference made clear, it was time to sit back and listen to a man who pays tribute in his music to what has gone before him whilst at the same time often writing contemporary lyrics for his own music, an approach used with humour in “Blue Pill Thrill”.
What can be said about Zac Harmon’s guitar playing style that has not already been said? Very little, but from the response of the audience this is what many expected from both him and a Jazz and Blues Festival. For myself, there was a mixture of classic “Mississippi Blues” sounds often mixed in with a gentle soul and funk feel and the band knew just how to follow when the mood shifted a little towards those sounds.
If you are going to be in a band on-stage with Zac Harmon then you need to be good, and Chris Gipson (Bass), Corey Carmichael (Keyboards), Texas Slim (Guitar) and newest addition to the band Jamil Byrom (Drums), are more than up to the job, and Corey Carmichael is so important to the sound of this band when we move into that soul/funk feel. There is an odd fact to “The Blues” too in the way that the music can so often be full of humour and fun, and there is that “feel good” feeling not only in so much of the music, but between Zac and the band – particularly between Zac and Chris Gipson – a comedy double act whenever they wanted to be one.
Zac Harmon has a new album out, “Mississippi BarBQ” and it has just become “Hits #1 on Soul Blues Chart” after being out only a very short time, so it was perhaps obvious that some of the music in this show was going to come from this album, and songs like “Honey Pleez”, “Make a Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents” and “Mississippi BarBQ” show an album with as broad a section of musical styles as played on stage tonight.
The album also features a version of Bob Dylan’s classic “Knockin' on Heaven's Door” and this was one of the big set pieces at the end of this show, but with a long and winding monologue before the actual song it lost for me, despite fine playing by Zac and the band, much of its original power. This song has always, like so many of Bob Dylan’s songs, been open to interpretation in different ways, but I think it fair to say that here, I have a different take on what the song means, one more in-line with its original use as written for a specific scene in the 1973 film “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”.
All in all though, a 90 minute set with no interval that set my first review of this year’s Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival off to a good start.
Review by Tom King