LAKE CITY

Lake City A self-described "team player," Ron Sorin has been a busy sideman on the Chicago blues scene since the 1970s. His lengthy and distinguished blues resume includes stints with Big Moose Walker, Johnny Littlejohn, Hubert Sumlin, Bo Diddley, Willie Kent, Bob Stroger, James Wheeler, Detroit Junior, Deitra Farr, Gloria Hardiman, Steve Freund, and Ken Saydak. Ron was also a founding member of Big Shoulders, an American roots music band that released two albums on Rounder Records. Still in print, these sides reveal that he was already a formidable player by the late 80s.

This is Ron Sorin's first solo project. His harp is out front, weaving its way through a wide variety of blues-based material. It's a musical journey that evokes cotton fields, open water, storefront churches, juke joints, jazz clubs, and even Walt Disney. Ron wrote most of the tunes, and they reflect his life experiences and musical influences. The CD title, "Lake City," refers to the Chicago lakefront neighborhood Ron grew up in. Where he first fell in love with the blues.

This project was conceived in the studio, and some of the best blues musicians in Chicago helped out. Severn recording artist Tad Robinson handles most of the lead vocals and his melismatic, soulful delivery is especially effective on ? Years.? Equal parts blues belter and soul singer, Tad turns in one strong performance after another. Veteran bassist Harlan Terson and ace drummer Marty Binder expertly lock down a diverse set of grooves. Harlan co-produced this CD along with Ron and contributed one of his own tunes, "Autumn Rush," to the song list. "I've Got No Strings" from the Disney movie Pinocchio was Harlan's idea and is given a wild rock 'n' roll ride. Old friend Ken Saydak drops by to overdub keys and background vocals. Mark Wydra's guitar work is stellar throughout, encompassing several different blues styles. Everyone involved, in fact, serves the music well.

But the common thread is Ron Sorin's exuberant, blues-drenched harp work. Ron has been playing the blues on harmonica since the age of thirteen. By sixteen he was already a professional, working on Chicago's north side with Mississippi bluesman Johnny "Big Moose" Walker. Ron's playing style is a blend of past masters, lessons learned on countless bandstands over the decades, and his own experimentation. He loves to tinker with old riffs and classic lines. The result is something that sounds deeply immersed in blues harp history; yet fresh and inventive at the same time-definitely not without its own quirks and surprises.

Harp highlights for me include the tough Chicago playing on "Hang Tight," full of swagger and testosterone. Both Ron's solo and background work are outstanding here. "Gimme Dat Harp, Boy" is raw, primeval stuff and might just be the first time a polyphonia harmonica was ever used on a blues session. Few play 1st position blues harp as well as Ron, and that skill is fully displayed on "I've Got No Strings" and "Back Pocket." He stretches out on two self-penned instrumentals, "Chump Change" and "Northeaster." The former, done in one take, finds his harp almost sounding like a horn section in spots. The latter title refers to a wind pattern off Lake Michigan, but Ron's own blowing on this one could serve as primer on how to breathe through a harmonica. Reminiscent of the late harpist Little Walter, Ron is playing lead and rhythm almost simultaneously through the tune, and sounding relaxed and effortless while doing it. Bottom line: if you are blues harmonica fan, there is a treasure trove of great reed work throughout this CD to enjoy and/or study.

I've known Ron Sorin since the 70's as a modest guy who prefers to let his harp work speak for itself. Well, it's done that here. And to my ears it says: world-class blues player, made in Chicago. Hopefully this release will get him some much-deserved recognition beyond the city limits. He has been one of the blues harmonica's best kept secrets for far too long.


Mick Zaklan

 

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