Erin and Neil Harpe

Erin and Neil Harpe
Delta Blues Duets

Juicy Juju Records

By Bill Copeland
June 2008

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Erin Harpe may be known best for fronting her Electro dance party rock band LoveWhip. In local blues circles, though, she has earned respect as a solo blues artist for her sparse renditions of vintage blues songs originally written by the likes of Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith, and Kansas Joe.

Growing up in the Washington D.C. area, Harpe was schooled by her father Neil Harpe. The elder Harpe had her playing out in coffeehouses, folk festivals, bars, and parties through out D.C. Landing in Boston after college; Ms. Harpe soon started her bifurcated musical career.

She released Blues Roots to much acclaim in 2002. Winning rave reviews for her CD, Ms. Harpe was a finalist in the Boston Blues Challenge, a featured player at Bostonís House Of Blues, and a staple on Boston blues radio programs. She once opened for Rounder Records blues band The Tarbox Ramblers.

On her sophomore blues effort, Delta Blues Duets, Harpe has recruited her dad to back her on guitar and vocals. Both Harpes have voices that can stand alone without the music. On “Bye Bye Blues,” the guitars are twisty and the vocals are authentic for this genre. Each Harpe has true range. Being father and daughter they naturally work well together - the combination of the two making this disc successful.

“Called You This Morning” features Neilís voice sounding appropriately raspy. Erin doesnít sound nearly as whisky-soaked, but she does sound soulful and real. She has moments when her voice wraps around these lyrics as tight as an elastic band, her command making these songs her own.

On guitars, these two weave a wall of bluesy old-time sweetness. Their finger picking styles conjure images of Southern blues musicians playing on each otherís front porches on hot summer evenings. “Chauffer Blues” has a thicker guitar sound that perfectly matches Erinís vocal delivery. She grew up with this music, and she has a good sense of its fundamentals.

Some fans of her LoveWhip band might have to check out this disc one track at a time before they get into, and appreciate, her work with vintage blues. From there, they will likely gain a greater appreciation of what she does in each format.

In “Kokomo Blues,” the Harpes create a huge bluesy backdrop with slide and rhythm, while Erin fills the melody with her voice, something she is vocally strong enough to pull off. There is a sweetness to the melody they play on “Fishiní Blues” that actually creates the breezy mood of this favorite past time. Father and daughter clearly enjoy singing this song together, bringing warmth and tenderness to it.

Each track gives the listener insight into just how much a solo or duo can accomplish with sparse instrumentation around one or two voices. “In My Girlish Days,” with itís 1936 picking approach, allows Erinís voice to stretch and effectively fill out the sound. “Mississippi Delta Blues” uses a plucky classic blues guitar chord progression. “Down And Out,” meanwhile, finds Erinís voice wringing a lot of feeling out of each verse.

Erinís best performance on Delta Blues Duets happens on “Stop And Listen Blues,” a story song about going to court and facing a tough judge. She sounds appropriately wry, while her rhythm guitar kicks each verse forward with solid smacks. She also sounds like an authentic blues chanteuse on “Winnie The Wailer,” another story song, and here she reaches the emotive quality of Billie Holiday.

There is not a weak moment on this whole record. The liner notes do not include song credits, so only blues aficionados will know the original songwriters. Otherwise, daughter and father Harpe have made a valiant, valid effort at bringing this music to a modern audience.

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