Picks and Pans Review: Blowin' Like Hell

updated 10/22/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/22/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

William Clarke

West Coast blues-harmonica virtuoso and singer Clarke has been blowing like hell for 20 years. But not until 1987 was Clarke, 39, able to quit his machinist job and devote himself to gigging and touring.

With this, his sixth album and his first on a national label, Clarke has taken the lessons he learned over the years playing with L.A.-by-way-of-Chicago blues-harmonica great George "Harmonica" Smith, and honed them into a plush, pleasing mix.

Plying the big round sound of such Chicago bluesmen as James Cotton, Junior Wells and Little Walter, Clarke blasts on nine original cuts plus two standards, including Roy Brown's "Lollipop Mama."

Clarke's own tunes stick to blues basics, but get a fine, fat feel from his L.A. swing-blues styling. You'll hear it on such numbers as the plaintive "Trying So Hard" and the breezy, bopping "Must Be Jelly."

Clarke's clean-sounding production, his straight-on singing and his driving, heavily amplified playing are well served by his assorted sidemen, including Willie Brinlee on acoustic bass and guitarist Alex Schultz.

George Smith, early in Clarke's career, admonished the energetic young harpist to slow his playing, to make every note count. On "Blowin' Like Hell," Clarke seems to have taken his mentor's advice to heart and harp. (Alligator)

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