Blues harp master Bill Lupkin's credentials are spelled out on the inner sleeve of his new release, Where I Come From. A jaw-dropping montage of scrapbook photos shows Lupkin backing up blues legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Rogers, Buddy Guy and Herbert Sumlin, among others. This bodes well for the music to follow, which doesn't disappoint.
The Fort Wayne native made his way to Chicago in the late 60s to ply his musical wares, eventually getting the opportunity to play harmonica with the aforementioned greats. The gritty, earthy wails Lupkin pulls from his harp on Where I Come From hearken back to those days, transporting the listener to the intimate South Side clubs where he formed his formidable musical chops.
The production on Where I Come From is refreshingly un-slick, allowing the vintage tones to shine through. "The Sun is Shinin'" is a perfect example, featuring a rolling piano, walking bassline and a vocal coated in just enough distorted grit to put it over the top – then Lupkin's harp comes in, wailing like a cross between a very close train and some kind of unearthly saxophone. It's classic blues done up right.
"Move Out to the Country" opens with a swampy vintage guitar that provides punctuation throughout the song. Lupkin paints a lyrical picture of a free spirited getaway to the wide-open country "where the air is fresh and clean." The song is a perfect soundtrack for driving on a carefree country road with the windows down.
Lupkin enters Jimmy Rogers territory on the burnished (yet somehow simultaneously raw) "Bad Feelin.'" His gruff vocal is rendered calmly but ominously as he intones, "Be careful now baby/ if you're gonna leave," while a surging piano solo takes center stage at the song's apex.
Lupkin's vocals mirror his evocative harp, able to express resignation and regret alongside rage and excitement. The hard-earned veneer of experience coats every word, bolstering the album's smoky authenticity.
An alternate version of "Move Out to the Country" appears at the end of the album and was tracked locally at Tempel Recording Studio (the rest of the album was recorded in Elgin, Illinois). Though a reprise, the song is totally recast here, featuring a slinky, funky groove that puts the song in a totally different light. It's an energetic and celebratory finish to a disc full of blues highlights. Go to bluebellarecords.com for more info.
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