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Is it fair to take issue with somebody who has varied interests when he chooses to pursue both at the same time?

Is it fair to almost ignore the fact that his primary pursuit has paid great dividends the last three times out and in the process has all but definitively settled the debate as to which avenue was more promising, making this B-side merely a way to keep his hand in the less promising of the two areas?

Is it fair to criticize him for the shortcomings IN that secondary area when he does try to pay cursory attention to it from time to time?

The answer to all of those questions is clearly… No, it is not fair at all.

Now that it’s settled we’ll do just that in the following review and be patently unfair to the artist guilty of these acts.


Don’t Care What You Do
We’ve mentioned countless times when encountering Peppermint Harris that he was one of those artists who had options when it came to musical styles he could legitimately pursue and succeed in.

That he’d done so already with the blues early on meant that either he, his record company or both of them, would probably want to at least keep a hand in that realm in case Harris’s rock efforts failed to draw much notice.

To date they kinda had, releasing just as many blues-based tracks as rock ones, even if they rarely were pure blues records, full stop.

But Harris’s most successful forays into the blues were average at best. He definitely had certain natural characteristics that lent themselves to that idiom, his creaky baritone that sounded decades older than it was for instance made him a perfect fit for the dominant image of the blues, but when he gave himself over to that genre he just wasn’t at all distinctive.

By contrast the more attention he paid to rock the better the results seemed to be – subjective though that take is of course. Maybe because he was so atypical for rock in a lot of ways it made him seem like an interesting curiosity even though it ran the risk of being a much harder needle for him to thread.

Hearing him romp his way through an uptempo track though could be a joy as his natural morose tone took on an almost devilish whimsy that was consistently appealing. Put some fake horns on his head along with a bifurcated tail and stick a pitchfork in his hand and he’d be the smirking embodiment of that cartoonish image we associate with the ruler of hell… albeit one more intent on claiming women’s virginity rather than their eternal soul.

But when he reverted back to the blues, or at least a blues-rock hybrid like Reckless Lover, that’s when his vocal limitations combined with an almost by-the-numbers approach to song-craft, unlike his more potent rockers which usually had a creative perspective or characterization at the heart of them, meant that he may have been a proper fit for the blues, but he was destined to never stand out.


Wake Up At Midnight Screaming
The crying horn and piano that kick this off are pleasant enough but when Harris’s foghorn bellow comes in it can’t help but seem at odds with the backing to a degree. He does his best to temper his volume and is fully cognizant of the adhering to the song’s tight structure so he doesn’t throw it out of balance, but that also means he can’t really project any emotion in what he sings.

It’s a very measured performance in other words, tight and professional in its delivery, but unremarkable in every other way.

The story is workmanlike as well, giving us a standard theme of falling for the wrong girl, not caring she’s “mean and evil”, presumably because she’s pretty hot, though here the restrictiveness of the twelve bar blues form kills his chances to give us a more descriptive story as he’s repeating lines at such a slow pace that this is more like a slightly expanded fortune cookie rather than a slightly slimmer novel when it comes to imparting relevant information.

Where Reckless Lover picks up is in the sax solo which is not surprisingly also what distances it from the blues. Ed Wiley plays a languid, sometimes slinky, passage that arouses more curiosity about what’s going on behind closed doors between these two (Harris and his girl that is, not Harris and Wiley… as far as we know) than anything that Peppermint himself is able to impart.

There’s no change of pace here, but there’s a definite change of attitude that gives this a bit more life than it otherwise would have when everything else about the record sounds far too drowsy to keep us focused.

Harris doesn’t slip up in what he offers, but he also doesn’t offer anything of much value, this is a dime a dozen type of song drawing far too much from an outside genre for it to be of much interest to a rock fan. Yet you could say the exact same thing for a blues fan finding the sax solo to cause an otherwise middling blues effort to skew too closely to rock for their comfort.

Of course that’s not an unusual fate for a record that can’t make up its mind.

There Will Come A Time
Sometimes people pursue something that’s just not right for them and no amount of pleading with them to reconsider can change their mind if they have their heart set on that goal.

That’s certainly true for the theme of Reckless Lover, but it also holds up when it comes to Peppermint Harris’s continued attempts to make the cut as a blues act. This record, by virtue of the sax, avoids being slotted rigidly in that genre even though its most notable attributes are certainly more fitting there.

He deserves to get more than eight or nine months of leeway when it came to being allowed – or asked – to follow up his early pure blues hit and if it was the company more than the artist interested in remaining relevant in blues circles, we can’t really criticize them for that.

But what we CAN criticize them for is the records themselves when these compromised tracks don’t live up to expectations. And if they still want to keep at it after seeing the disparity in the scores between the rockers and the more blues-tilted material, then all bets are off.


(Visit the Artist page of Peppermint Harris for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)