Two new harp-led discs
Chico, CA 95928
Now 75, harmonica ace James Cotton got his start at the age of 9 while apprenticing with Rice Miller (aka Sonny Boy Williamson II). Ten years later he got his biggest break: Muddy Waters came to town without his harp player, Junior Wells, and hired Cotton. His career really took off thanks to the 12 years he spent with Muddy. Since then he’s appeared on nearly 30 records and has earned the well-deserved accolade of “Mr. Superharp.” Though a bout with throat cancer in the ’90s caused him to stop singing (guitarist Slam Allen handles all but one vocal on new Alligator release Giant), his harp work is still ferocious. There are a lot of Muddy’s songs, some solid originals and a magnificent version of Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You, Baby.” Oakland harmonica fiend Mark Hummel has a brand-new CD, Unplugged: Back Porch Music, that features his smooth playing and singing, in a mostly acoustic format, on a batch of originals and a few good old good ones, including some by Muddy Waters, Tampa Red and Rice Miller. His instrumental version of “See, See Rider,” with guitarist Rusty Zinn, gets top honors.