Hard Swimmin' Fish,
True Believer
(independent, 2016)

I first saw Hard Swimmin' Fish playing in the streets in the town where I live. We throw a little downtown festival once a month and the Fish have a regular slot playing on the main street -- and they do cause a traffic jam, both of cars and pedestrians.

A four-piece acoustic blues unit -- Damian Lewis: guitar (primarily resonator) and vocals; Waverly Minor: harmonica and vocals; Jason Walker on drums; and Randy Bell on upright bass -- Hard Swimmin' Fish sound like they've spent a lifetime wandering the cemeteries looking for the ghost of Howlin' Wolf. They're wrapped in classic blues, especially influenced by Wolf; they cover his "Howlin' for My Darlin'," and Minor can crank out a solo that is both a tribute to Wolf and a personal statement of his own voice at the tip of a hat.

The band blasts out of yesterday, reminding us of a time when Chess Records ruled the charts, records were analog and mono and engineered to sound good on car radios and jukeboxes. "Love Me or You Don't" sounds like it might have been cut in 1955 and discovered on a shelf in the warehouse where it had been accidentally left all those years ago. It's a fine song; done digitally, with a heavy dose of 21st-century technology and flash, and you've got Stevie Ray Vaughn. Vaughn, as well as most of the current blues-slingers, shows less concern with the past than he does with the noise of the now; what they play is more rock than blues. Hard Swimmin' Fish live in 1950s Chicago and the 21st-century Maryland-DC area simultaneously, which gives their music a vitality that's had to find elsewhere.

Now that they're winning awards, getting recognition and better gigs, playing clubs, theaters and festivals, Hard Swimmin' Fish are hard to find in the streets these days. Wherever they're play, though, audiences are jumping.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

3 September 2016

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