After quite a few years off from recording – 2007’s Hard Pill to Swallow was his last album of originals – Bill Lupkin is back with this collection of tunes recorded live at the White Lake Blues Festival in Whitehall, Michigan, and at the Key Palace Theater in Redkey, Indiana. In a sense, Live Vol. 1 is a reiteration of classic Lupkin rather than something new, but it’s a reminder that the harpist holds a significant spot in the history of Chicago blues, and he can still play it like it’s supposed to be played.The tunes on Live Vol. 1 are almost entirely Lupkin originals, and most of them were originally released on Hard Pill to Swallow. One original, ”What’s with That?,” from 2006’s Where I Come From, and two covers – Jimmy Rogers’ “Walking by Myself” and Little Walter’s “Juke” – fill out the set and keep this from being Hard Pill Live.
That’s not to say that this live set is not a treat in itself. From the fiery kickoff of “Think It Over Baby,” it’s a whirlwind, with drummer Tino Cortez and bassist Steve Lupkin (Bill’s brother) setting a breakneck pace into which Lupkin’s harp and vocals fit perfectly. Even when things settle into a slower groove, as in the dreamy “Bad Luck,” there’s energy bubbling under the surface.
In general, the songs recorded at the Key Palace Theater feel looser and more intimate, while the tracks from the Whitehall gig trip along with polish. Regardless of ambience, though, every track is a fine platform for Lupkin’s warm, smoky delivery.
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