Old Pal Records.
10 tracks / 38:07.
Many musicians record tribute albums that include material made popular by artists that have inspired them or touched their lives. Most always the muse is a nationally or internationally known artist that has been active in popular culture for decades. Then there is Hank Mowery, who just released Account to Me, an ode to Gary Primich, a blues singer and harmonica master who left us too soon. Gary has not yet gotten the recognition he deserves, but that is changing thanks to this album which is a is righteous endeavor that is very well done. In fact, it is so well-regarded that it has been named the best self-produced CD of 2013 by The Blues Foundation International Blues Challenge!
Gary Primich was a Chicago native who moved to Austin where he made a name for himself with his blues harp and his voice. Over the course of his career he played with a lot of great groups, cut nine of his own records, and produced a very good instructional CD on how to play the harmonica. Primich passed away in 2007, just short of his 50th birthday, but not before he had the chance to touch Hank Mowery’s life. Hank ran the Rhythm Kitchen Cafe in Peoria, Illinois where his band, The Hawktones, played, and Gary was one of the acts that was invited to join the action on stage.
Hank Mowery is no slouch on the harmonica either, and it was natural that he would be the one to record this album, especially as he had the blessing and participation of Gary’s father, JV Primich, the executive producer of Account to Me. Hank took care of the harp and vocals on this project, and was joined by Patrick Recob on bass (Primich’s bassist, by the way), Troy Amaro on guitar, Chris Corey on the keys and John Large behind the drum kit. This disc includes five songs that were written by Primich, and two of them had not been previously released.
“Spend a Little Time” is the first track up, and it is an original that was penned by Mowery and Recob. This is fast-paced rocker with a hammering piano line and a heavily distorted organ that takes the place of the guitar. Mowery proves himself right away with his throaty voice and wailing harp. One thing to note is that he chose to record this project at Grand Rapids’ Goon Lagoon Studios in an analog format (instead of digitally), giving this album a rich vintage tone.
The next song up is the title track, a previously-unreleased Primich number that JV brought to the studio. “Account to Me” is a lovely ballad that features Amaro’s tremolo-soaked guitar with a sparse backline and Recob on the acoustic guitar. As this is a plaintive story of love and honesty it is all about the words and vocals, and the harmonica’s interplay with the guitar is just the icing on the cake. This is followed up by “Put the Hammer Down,” a snappy rockabilly song that Gary wrote about life on the road and his desire to get back home again.
Junior Valentine contributed his guitar talent on three of the songs that were written by Primich including “My Home,” which is one of the standout tracks on Account to Me. This shuffle is what the blues are all about, and this will be heard in both the melody and the lyrics. The extra guitar gives this a real barroom feel, and Mowery is at his best behind the microphone. You just cannot beat lines like: “Our bedroom looks like it’s been through a war since you made tracks and walked out that door.”
The two covers on Account to Me are both the kind of songs that Gary loved and made his mark with. Memphis Slim and Matt Murphy’s “Banana Oil” is a groovy Latin-influenced instrumental with a generous dose of Hammond B3 from Corey and plenty of edgy harp from Mowery, and at only 2 ? minutes it leaves the listener wanting more! The other re-do is Reverend Robert Wilkins’ “That’s no Way to Get Along,” and guest artist Jimmie Stagger’s voice and National guitar join Mowery’s harmonica for this hill-country blues track. This bare-bones acoustic piece provides a marked change of pace and vibe, and is a wonderful way to bring the album to a close.
It should be pointed out that if you buy this CD it includes a terrific booklet of liner notes that were put together by Mowery’s friend Tad Robinson, who is also a fabulous vocalist and harmonica player. It contains a nice write-up of Primich’s harp style, and detailed notes about each song on the disc. This added bonus is something that used to be commonplace, but sadly has become quite rare in recent years.
Account to Me is a nice piece of work, and goes beyond the scope of most tribute albums as half of its content is made up of originals and covers that also celebrate the subject artist. Any musician would be overjoyed to have such a well thought out and produced album as their legacy. If you love the blues, rock and roll or rockabilly, Hank Mowery and his friends deliver the goods, and you should give this CD a listen.
Review by Rex Bartholomew