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Even-Keeled 'Daddy' Too Easy on Fats, Pearl : Harmonica Fats & Bernie Pearl "Blow, Fat Daddy, Blow!" Bee Bump Records (**)

August 27, 1996|MIKE BOEHM

This veteran L.A.-Long Beach duo received a W.C. Handy award nomination in 1995 for best acoustic blues album. The strengths that gained notice for that release, "Two Heads Are Better . . . " are still apparent, and the peak tracks on "Blow, Fat Daddy, Blow!" are at least as good as anything on the previous release. But for long stretches of this CD, Fats (69-year-old Louisiana native Harvey Blackston) and his guitar-playing sidekick turn the virtue of restraint into a drawback by overdoing it.

The album begins as if it's going to deliver a prime crop of songs and performances. Fats' gruff, amiable, down-home singing powers the title track, a jumping boogie. Switching into slow-blues mode, they come up with "She's Way Out of My Class," in which Fats' penchant for taking an unusual perspective in a blues song pays off. This one is a portrait of a man's insecurity over whether he matches up intellectually with the woman he loves. Pearl, with his clean, tasteful and moderate approach, adds to the tension and forlornness with some nimble licks. Another ballad, the instrumental "Blues for Mrs. B.," is played in memory of Fats' wife, who died shortly before the album was recorded. It's a graceful, circumspect lament, with Pearl's thin, crying guitar tones and Fats' long, lonesome harmonica moans and staccato quiet sobs carrying the emotion.

The catchy, boastful "Looking for My Tools" rides an energetic, Latin-tinged groove, but here the music needs more bite. Pearl's playing is crisp and precise, but sometimes rawness and daring are called for instead. The album's dry production is too even and plain; you don't need bombs bursting in air on an acoustic blues album, but you do want to hear the instruments bursting through the speakers with a hot charge or a quietly intense immediacy.

Pearl's concluding solo-guitar piece, "Blues Kaddish," is a reminder of the virtues of restraint. While the title promises keening emotion (a "kaddish" is a Jewish benediction said in memory of the dead), Pearl's performance is quiet and austere, offered with a dignified stillness that's evocative in its own way.

(Available from Bee Bump Records, (310) 426-0761.)

* Harmonica Fats & Bernie Pearl play Wednesday at the Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 E. Ocean Blvd. 7 p.m. $11. (310) 439-2119.

*

Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with *** denoting a solid recommendation.

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