Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
Harvey Mandel — Who's Calling
(Bandcamp Tompkins Square TSQ 5920, 2022, CD / DL)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2023-02-28
Harvey “The Snake” Mandel has always been an innovative composer and guitar player, from his earliest work with Charlie Musselwhite and organist Barry Goldberg to a long string of solo albums beginning with Cristo Redentor in 1968, which he maintained even while playing more lucrative gigs with Canned Heat (replacing Henry Vestine) and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, as well as being an in-demand session player through all the years. Best knows as a blues guitarist, he was equally comfortable playing in jazz and rock settings, pioneering a number of innovative techniques. Sadly, what we’ve been hearing most about Mandel in recent years are his ongoing battle with cancer (he beat it once, but it returned), and broken feet and fingers (a broken pinky on his fretting hand can’t be helpful) — but he soldiers onward. Who’s Calling is Mandel’s first new album since 2019’s Smoke This, and although we don’t know a lot of details about the dates of the recordings, it features Ryan Jewell on drums and co-production, with Andy Hess on bass. The album launches with “Last Walk,” the first of eight cuts for a total of just under 30 minutes, a soaring display of imaginative electric guitar mastery in what seems far more rock than blues, though everything Mandel does is informed by a little bit of everything the 77-year-old veteran has ever done before. With “Crazy Town” he introduces a bit more funk into his sound along with some talk-box soloing and delay loops, plus with plenty of sizzle. A more aggressive and syncopated rhythm carries “Moon Talk” forward. Throughout, Mandel sticks to a purely instrumental oeuvre, which suits his best playing, as on “Robo Snake.” With the title track, there’s no shortage of guitar pyrotechnics as it unfolds over a funky bluesy undercurrent, while the Latin tinged “Lucky Sevens” wields a wicked multi-tracked guitar line. Few guitarists can coax these kind of sounds out of their instrument the way he does, and even though the album is a little on the short side, Who’s Calling has much to recommend.
Related artist(s): Harvey Mandel
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