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Undaunted Professor Harp Rules the Blues
Undaunted. The dictionary defines it as "not discouraged; not forced to abandon purpose or effort."
To any New England fan of harmonica driven blues, the word has become synonymous with Hugh Holmes, a.k.a. The Undaunted Professor Harp, who summers on our local stages. This perennial performer's monolithic presence and equally behemoth sound defines him as one of the few unyielding hardcore bluesmen left on the circuit today. How he acquired his moniker from music legends Muddy Waters and Solomon Burke has evolved into the stuff of lore. But make no mistake about it, Professor Harp is not some alter ego by any means. It is the embodiment of an uncompromising rhythm and blues stalwart, who has graced just about every area venue equipped with a stage and a liquor license. '
With such a protracted and accomplished career under his belt one might be led to believe that his new CD, They Call Me The Professor, is merely the latest in a string of recordings. In all actuality this collection marks the Professor Harp's first mass release in his 30-plus year career. And for the occasion, Harp received more than just a little help form his friends, assembling a cadre of powerhouse players such as Doug James (Roomful of Blues), Bob Margolin (Muddy Waters, Mike Labelle (Young Neal & the Vipers) and the late John Packer.
However, no musician played more key a role in the overall tone of the project — aside from The Professor himself — than blues guitarist extraordinaire Tom Ferrao, who served additional duties as producer, writer and benevolent Svengali.
The album opens with the title track, a heavy 4-on-the-floor hard driving shuffle know in the blues idiom as a "march" beat style. the song itself is basic standard blues fare, with some predictable lyrics that won't have Paul Simon losing any sleep tonight: "They call me the Professor, time for you to go to school - Gonna put you in my classroom, teach you all about my rules..."
However, Professor Harp's bellowing vocal style and tasty harmonica punctuation make the groove so irresistibly cool that it wouldn't matter if he was singing the listings out of the White Pages!
Although much has been said about Harp's penchant for Texicago style blues, he also has a deep love for roots rock "n" roll, a fact abundantly evident in his complete reworking of the Marty Robbins tune "Sugaree." In the same vein, his cover of The Rockin' Rebels' surfrock romp "Wild Weekend" injects some harmonica into a traditionally guitar-dominate genre, that even 10 Dick Dales couldn't beat.
Cover songs aside, of the 10 tracks presented, the original entitled "Fightin' The Battle" proves to be the standout of the bunch. A raw, heartfelt slow blues, the obviously deeply personal song demonstrates a surprising vulnerable side to Professor Harp. "I wake up in the morning. Its never far behind. They all fear a black man with a solid mind - They all smile and say hello, but deep down they'd love to see me gone... People talk equal opportunity but don't try selling that to me - You try to rent a home for your family, the landlord takes one look at you 'sorry no vacancy.'" With the kind of gut wrenching honesty rarely found in the blues world today, "Fighting The Battle" succeeds where the aforementioned title track failed. When an artists share that suppressed part of themselves otherwise hidden away from the world, the artist connects with the listener. And connect Professor Harp does.
On "Eine Für Herr Schmidt," Harp spotlights his trade mark swirling mouth-organ and ever-so-slightly psychedelic. This signature harmonica sound along with his sometimes pontifical vocal style does "They Call Me The Professor" an accurate representation of Professor Harp's entire career. Despite changing public tastes, clubs going in and out of business, and even the CD producer's untimely passing mid-project, Professor Harp endures. He remains one of the last true blues purist and as always he remains UNDAUNTED.