The Undaunted Professor Harp

The Undaunted Professor Harp

self published

By Karen Nugent
June 2011

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The Professor and I, as opposed to the King and I, have had some thought-provoking conversations about race and blues. Those phone calls immediately came to mind when I heard the fourth tune of this debut disk, and I was taken aback when the Prof, aka Hugh Holmes, told me that the song, “Fighting the Battle,” was actually written by his guitarist, Tom Ferraro. Apparently Ferraro, who also wrote the title track and is featured on guitar throughout the album, has keenly observed his professor.

The song, a slow mournful blues, tells the all-too-familiar story of a righteous black man “with a solid mind” who can’t get a landlord to rent to his family, can’t get a good job, and watches people cross streets in fear. It’s powerful, compelling stuff.

And it’s real blues.

The best part of this 10-track CD, a long time coming, is the variety – there’s a lot of fun thrown in with the angst - and a great mix of musicians, including a guest appearance on slide guitar by Brookline native Bob Margolin, of Muddy Waters fame. (Muddy dubbed Mr. Holmes “the professional of the harp” which later morphed into “the professor of the harp.”)

That song, “My Life: An Exercise in Blue,” written by Professor Harp, has a hard driving Chicago-style sound with Margolin’s always spectacular slide work and a tremendous harp solo by the man himself. The lyrics appear to be autobiographical – Hugh has led an interesting life for sure, and not always a happy one.

“The story is still being told,” as he points out in the song.

The title track, a cool shuffle, has fun lyrics about the Prof’s musical schoolhouse, and showcases his sharp wit.

“Texago At Doyle’s” is a super fast harmonica instrumental written by Holmes and highlights the Prof’s harmonica prowess.

A couple of songs on this CD made me grin: “What You Do To Me” and “It Just Comes Natural,” a jazzy number, are just pure joy.

“Wild Weekend,” a classic instrumental, is a nod to classic 60s rock ‘n roll, as is “Sugaree.” The Boston Blues Society is thrilled that Professor Harp, one of Boston’s most under-appreciated bluesmen, has at last put out a record.

While his shows are great fun, a girl likes to have her professor with her at all times. For example: when she is going under the knife at the Beth Israel hospital. I’m quite sure that one of the most famous plastic surgeons in the world heard some fantastic chromatic harp coming out of my iPod. It’s the last track of this album, a song called “Eine Fur Herr Schmidt,” an instrumental dedicated to George “Harmonica” Smith.

Maybe the doc will become the Harp’s next fan. As the Prof would say, “Cool Nuff.” Besides Ferraro and Margolin, musicians on the disc are: Marty Ballou, bass; Glenn Hardy, piano; Doug James, baritone sax; Keith Munslow, keyboards, the late John Packer, to whom the album is dedicated, on bass; and Mike Labelle and Mark Teixeira, drums.

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