Live at Labatt

  • 2008
  • Live at Labatt
  • Mitch Kashmar
  • Delta Groove Music


It’s always gratifying to see a talented but previously underrecognized musician finally hit the big time.

Mitch Kashmar started his career in his home town of Santa Barbara, CA, where he led the Pontiax during the 1980s; the band backed many blues luminaries but never achieved renown. Kashmar soldiered on as a respected sideman for the next 20 years, until signing with new label Delta Groove and releasing “Nickels & Dimes” in 2005. That lauded album, and its sequel, 2006’s “Wake Up & Worry,” established Kashmar in the upper echelon of contemporary blues performers and earned him a 2007 Blues Music Award nomination as Harmonica Player of the Year, as well as a spot as harp player for the venerable band War.

“Live at Labatt” was recorded in August 2007 at a festival in Edmonton, Canada. Backed by a stellar band, Kashmar shines. The opening song, “I Got No Reason,” an original tune from his 2005 release, simply blasts this album into overdrive; no way will you be immobile while listening to it! Following it is “Dirty Deal,” another original tune featuring Kashmar’s stunning harp virtuosity as he plays in the high registers and evokes memories of Jimmy Reed’s style. “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman” slows down the pace and showcases the guitar wizardry of John Marx, former axeman for the late William Clarke and another underrecognized Southern California blues adept. “Evil Man Blues,” an adaptation of a Bessie Smith classic, gives center stage to the prowess of keyboard man Jimmy Calire. The next cut, an extended version of pianist Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father,” demonstrates the jazz-inflected chops of Kashmar and this hot band.

“Sugar Sweet” presents a long harmonica stretch-out, interplayed with Calire’s piano response. “You’re the One” is a straight 12-bar Chicago-style blues number, with an irrestible beat and fine sequential guitar, organ, and harp solos. “Lollipop Mama” is a salacious tribute to William Clarke, and “Wake Up & Worry” gives Marx plenty of room to display his 6-string taste and creativity. The album closes with “Castle Rock,” a long instrumental that ended this live performance with a flourish.

Throughout, Tom Lackner on drums and Steve Nelson on bass provide solid rhythmicity, and Kashmar’s smooth and strong vocals are almost as impressive as his harp playing, which maintains the superior tradition of So. Ca. harp standouts like James Harman, Al Blake, Rod Piazza, Johnny Dyer, and Kashmar’s late mentor and buddy William Clarke.

In my opinion, “Live at Labatt” is one of the best blues releases of 2008.

[This review first appeared on the BluesWax web site.]