To many folks, playing harmonica is something lead singers do when they get bored, much like conking a beat on a cowbell or shaking a tambourine. Obviously these folks have never heard a true harp master, they only know the smeared attempt at notes from the likes of Bob Dylan or the familiar steam-train rhythm from many blues and older country songs. The thing is, in the hands of a master, the harmonica is the lead guitar, the haunting harmony, and sometimes, if the man mouthing the harp has truly given himself wholly to the instrument, the gentle caress of a passionate lover.
Calvin Conway is just such a man. His songs come from deep within, a testament to his travels and his life. The music flows from the ground beneath his boots, he soaks up the history and traditions of the musicians who walked those same roads so long ago. Then he strips them bare and clothes them in modern trappings, in unexpected influences.
Calvin’s new album, Dark Horse Deluxe, takes you on an emotional voyage that begins with the upbeat, ‘Lucky Penny’, which rolls into the boot stomping, ‘I Need You’, where Conway’s harp skills are on full display. Calvin uses the harmonica like a musical scalpel rather than the background exclamation point that is far more common. Every note is enunciated clearly and has been thought out fully. I can’t stress enough how good he is on his chosen instrument nor how good the songwriting is on this collection.
The playful call of ‘Let’s Meet In Memphis’ snaps you back immediately to the longing that pulls at new lovers when they are apart, the Beale Street swing capturing the moment perfectly and it illustrates Calvin’s own understanding of these deep roots. The swampy ride that is ‘Mud Bug’ brings visions of dancing under bright moonlight, the slow boil of crawdads and spice filling the night air.
Calvin Conway is set to release Dark Horse Deluxe at the end of October and you should pre-order it now. This album will take you on a journey across the best parts of the country. Strap yourself in and set it on repeat, better yet, head over to Calvin’s Kickstarter campaign and order the limited-edition vinyl. After spending a lot of time with this album, I can’t think of another that screams for vinyl more than this one, it will make this journey complete.