Little Arthur Duncan,
Live at Rosa's Blues Lounge
(Delmark, 2007)

Little Arthur Duncan is a fixture on the Chicago blues scene. In 1954, he found himself living downstairs from harmonica legend Little Walter, who showed him some harp magic and encouraged him to take music seriously as an occupation. He played all over Chicago until the '80s, when he got into the nightclub business. When a dispute with the landlord closed down his club, Duncan resumed performing, touring and recording once more.

Now a veteran, he is best experienced live -- and this DVD is an opportunity to do just that. From all of his years in the business, Arthur seems to have learned that singing the blues and playing the mouth harp isn't enough; you have to be an entertainer, too. He sings, dances around, smiles, mugs for the ladies and blows fine harp solos.

His set list is all over the place, ranging from Jimmy Reed and Willie Dixon tunes, from Roosevelt Sykes' "44 Blues" to Little Walters' "Blues With a Feeling." He also throws in a few originals, but overall much of the material is familiar.

Watching it, you sense that something is missing. Little Arthur does everything he can to liven the set up, but it never quite comes alive. After several viewings, I discovered what I believe the source of the problem is: Little Arthur himself is all over the stage, doing everything but handstands, while the band is absolutely still, stonefaced while they play. They are either bored or consider themselves too cool to show any emotion at all. Whatever the reason, it casts a pall over the whole session.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

27 September 2008

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