Kashmar – West Coast Toast – Delta Groove

Kashmar – West Coast Toast – Delta Groove DGPCD174, 48: 32 ***1/2:

West Coast Blues lives on!

(Mitch Kashmir – harmonica, vocals, claves; Junior Watson – guitar; Fred Kaplan – piano, Hammond organ, cabs; Bill Stuve – double bass; Marty Dodson – drums)

Everyone has heard about Delta or Chicago Blues. The origins of the linkage between these genres has been documented frequently. But West Coast Blues is not as renowned or discussed as its counterparts. It originated in the 1940’s by musicians who migrated from Texas. The genre was influenced by jazz and jump music, and featured “jazzy” guitar solos, piano and smooth vocals. The first star of West Coast Blues was T-Bone Walker (of “Stormy Monday” fame.). Others including Lowell Fulson, Amos Milburn, Percy Mayfield and Charles Brown and more importantly, George “Harmonica” Smith graced the company. Now the legacy being carried by Santa Barbara vocalist and harmonica virtuoso, Mitch Kashmir.     

Kashmar has assembled a top-notch blues ensemble (Junior Watson/guitar; Fred Kaplan/piano, Hammond organ; Bill Stuve/double bass; Marty Dodson/drums) for his latest release, West Coast Toast (Delta Groove). The album is a living testament to the vital West Coast blues scene. Kicking off the festivities is an infectious quasi-jump swing original “East Of 82nd St.” Kashmar’s muscular opening lead is deep and rumbling and the mix reflects this emphatically. Junior Watson helps out on unison lead and solos. Switching to Willie Dixon’s “Too Many Cooks” (originally recorded by Jesse Fortune in 1962), the band generates a jaunty slide as Kashmar soars on a trademark solo. His vocals resonate with a steady assurance. The band knocks it out of the park on Henry Glover’s classic, “Young Girl”. This song was a big R & B hit for the inimitable Little Willie John in 1957. Kashmir and company lay out a glowing funky groove (like “Green Onions”). The harmonica licks are front and center. The band chemistry is flawless. The final 1:20 is a slow-burning groove that fades into a dreamy hush. It’s as good as blues can be.

Kashmir dials up the intensity on “Petroleum Blues”. It has a traditional up tempo swing and the wry lyrics and dance vibe are palpable. “Mood Indica” (another instrumental) is low-down and nasty. Kaplan’s piano accompaniment is splendid with equal parts agility and toughness. His solo at 2:45 is emphatic. Watson follows with a thick, muddy run before Kashmar piercingly wails away. Of course any blues album needs some Chicago action. And the Billy Boy Arnold hook-driven “Don’t Stay Out All Night” fits the bill perfectly. Blues music alternates between joyous celebration and ‘never goin’ back again” regret. On ‘My Lil’ Stumptown Shack” the latter seems in play as Kashmar intones on his new life choices.

The instrumentals on West Coast toast” are hard-driving and buoyant. “Makin’ Bacon” is West Coast swing (that has a touch of country). Kashmar’s harmonica lead is raw, unadulterated emotion. Watson rips on his distortion-laden guitar and Kaplan adds his stylish “old school” piano touch. For good measure, the group throws in a sly reference to “Shortnin’ Bread”. The repeat first line structure highlights the often-recounted tales of drinking and women troubles on the medium-groove “Alcohol Blues”. West Coast blues icon, Lowell Fulson is well-represented on “Love Grows Old”. Hot licks and dance vibes lift this track. It seems appropriate that the finale (“Canoodlin’”) is the longest track on the album and an instrumental. Clocking in at 7:41, it is nothing short of a gospel-influenced swing fest that has a nimble Hammond solo and finger-snapping aesthetics. Kashmir fluid harp is compelling.

The sound mix captures the raw dense layers of (judging by the photo on the cover) the vintage instruments). The track sequence works well in sustaining the momentum. West Coast Toast is a must-halve album for blues aficionados.

TrackList:
East Of 82nd St.
Too Many Cooks
Young Girl
The Petroleum Blues
Mood Indica
Don’t Stay out All Night
My Lil’ Stumptown Shack
Makin’ Bacon
Alcohol Blues
Love Grows Cold
Canoodlin’

—Robbie Gerson

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