“Beyond her undeniable instrumental skill, this damsel is endowed with a tone as powerful as it is cheeky, and her man provides flawless rhythmic support. That we can still enjoy this kind of record in 2020 is almost enough to prove the existence of God!”
Once nicknamed the “Betty Boop Of The Blues”, Erin Harpe is one of those typical cases of split personality (strictly musically, of course). Although initially versed in folk-blues, this follower of finger-picking first became known (after classical solo debuts in the coffee-house circuit) at the heart of the electro-dance band she piloted with her husband, Jim Countryman. It is under the name of Lovewhip that the couple recorded in this style, between 1998 and 2014, no less than four studio albums and one live, even winning along the way a 2004 Boston Music Award in this festive synthetic style… But we do not change not the zebra’s stripes, and Miss Erin made her first acoustic album in 2002 (“Blues Roots”), during which she sang solo Tommy Johnson and Bessie Smith as well as her idol, the great Memphis Minnie. In spite of this explicit manifesto, she pursued for another fifteen years during the Lovewhip experience (whose success in clubs was unabated), while continuing to rekindle in parallel the inextinguishable flame of the original blues. Her second effort in this style, “Blues Duets”, featured her in a duet with her father, Neil (who had introduced her to the guitar at a young age, in their home in Greenbelt, Maryland). Two years later, she formed (still with her husband) the Delta Swingers quartet, with drummer Bob Nisi and harmonica player Richard Rosenblatt (also Vizztone boss). This formula allowed them to soon win the Boston Blues Challenge, and to represent the city at the 2011 edition of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis (as a quintet, with the reinforcement of slide guitar player Jim Clifford). This band recorded three albums for Vizztone from 2014 to 2018, while Erin and her husband performed for their part under the name Acoustic Blues Duo. Harpe stuck with the acoustic guitar there, while Countryman provided the bass on a low ukulele. Exit, therefore, the Delta Swingers for this new album from our Bonnie & Clyde, where Miss Erin sings, strums the six strings and stamps her foot (while not loath to occasionally play a kazoo), while Monsieur holds forth on the ukulele bass and backing vocals. This album opens with three originals penned by Harpe, then follows with six adaptations, closing on a final composition of Madame. Between blues and country, the title track thus evokes the “No Expectations” of the Stones on “Beggar's Banquet”: slide and picking go together wonderfully, as they do on the torrid (and explicit) introductory “All Night Long”. “Hard Luck Woman” sounds like an unreleased track by Ida Cox or Ma Rainey, and Erin's supporting licks follow right along. The picking that she lays down on the mischievous “Women Be Wise” by Sippie Wallace is complemented by a tasty kazoo solo (as is “Pick Poor Robin Clean” by Geeshie Wiley), while the “I Hate That Train Called The M&O ”by Lucille Bogan deserves in this version its weight of haunted deep Delta. The traditional “Rollin 'And Tumblin'” and the gospel “When I Lay My Burden Down” (both in faithful transcriptions) precede Memphis Minnie's hit “What's The Matter With The Mill”, the first feminist manifesto if there was one (duly taken up by Muddy Waters under the name 'Can't Get No Grindin' ”, Which would in itself be enough to reassess - if necessary - the aura of the man). It would be unfair to ignore two of Erin Harpe's main assets: beyond her undeniable instrumental skill, this damsel is endowed with a tone as powerful as it is cheeky, and her man provides her with flawless rhythmic support. That we can still enjoy this kind of record in 2020 is almost enough to prove the existence of God!