Album Review

Marshall Lawrence - House Call (album review)

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Marshall Lawrence is considered one of Canada’s best finger style blues guitarists. (He’s also a psychologist with a PhD, but that has nothing to do with this review.)

House Call is Lawrence’s fourth CD, and features some excellent guitar and harp playing, a nice rhythm section, surprise guests The Holmes Brothers providing backup vocals…and otherwise merely competent vocals by Lawrence. He has a so-what tenor that doesn’t seem to be able to do what his blues need – to sound bluesier, more inflected and uniquely phrased.  Still, the album is nicely sequenced in terms of tempo and mood.  It features Lawrence’s fine guitar playing, while the evocative blues-rock harp playing by David "Hurricane" Hoerl on the opening tracks recalls John Mayall’s chordy staccato harp style.

The first two tracks are upbeat blues, followed by a hybrid gospel/soul-Delta piece composed by Lawrence and featuring the Holmes Brothers on intro and background vocals. Titled “Factory Closing Blues,” it’s a musically minimalist shuffle that nicely integrates Lawrence’s National Guitar under and over counterpoint vocals by the Holmes Brothers and Lawrence. This is probably one of the more effective tracks on this listenable CD.

On the songwriting front, Lawrence acquits himself with some nicely varied arrangements that reflect shifts in mood and tone, enhanced by the fine track sequencing. Of the 13 songs, 11 are penned by Lawrence, while two are well-chosen covers, "Death's Black Train" (traditional)  and "Canned Heat Blues" (Tommy Johnson), both competently rendered.

The excellent band lineup also includes Russell Jackson on doghouse bass, David Aide on Hammond B3 Organ, and Dwayne Hrinkiuw on percussion.  In addition to the Holmes Brothers, background vocals are provided by Barry Allen.  This album isn’t killer blues, but, like our neighbors to the north, it’s firm, it’s friendly, and it rocks in its own way.