Grant Dermody,
Crossing That River
(self-produced, 2003)

Grant Dermody started his career playing Chicago blues -- a common enough beginning for harmonica players. He went from that often-imitated style to follow Piedmont and Delta blues. His solo CD expands from that base on this Americana CD. Dermody shows the versatility of the harmonica with different styles of songs, using a variety of players on acoustic instruments.

On the CD booklet, Dermody gives a category to each of the 15 cuts. The first, "Breakthrough," is called "funk blues." This does not have the guitar scratchings that are characteristic of funk, however. There is more of a country feel, which permeates the whole CD, led by Dermody's laid-back vocals and subtle harp work.

There are a number of comfortable porch songs that overlap folk and blues, like "Boats Up River" and Cut You Loose." "Greasy Coat" and "Yew Piney Mountain" are old-timey tunes with a Celtic flavor, with Scott Meyer on fiddle and Dermody trading lively solos.

John Cephas takes over lead vocals on the country-blues song "Look at the People Standing at the Judgment." "What Comes Around" has a bit of a New Orleans feel, with Julian Preister on trombone and Bob Kechley on piano.

Dermody knows that a little harp goes a long way. He concentrates on tone instead of speed, never playing more notes than necessary. He also eschews the "screechy" top range of his harps, using tongue work and breathing techniques to vary his sound. The harmonica is used as an acoustic folk instrument here, not as a heavily miked "Mississippi saxophone."

He also uses the chromatic harmonica, most notably on his beautiful tunes, "It's Alright," accompanied only by Orville Johnson on dobro, and "The Leeward Side" with Johnson on mandolin and John Miller on guitar. Johnson and Miller take many tasteful solos throughout the CD.

The harp duets "I'm Going to Cross that River of Jordan" with Joe Filisko and "Anacostia Two Step" with Phil Wiggins are highlights. It's a rare treat to hear these excursions, where sometimes one player is lead and the other is rhythm, and at others they intertwine melodies.

Crossing That River is an excellent CD that has a consistency in sound and feel, never seeming scattered even though it covers many styles.

- Rambles
written by Dave Howell
published 9 October 2004