Houston Music

Sonny Boy Terry

Ever since Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter entered the scene in the early '50s, the harmonica has been synonymous with the blues. In the hands of a good musician, this crude little instrument is capable of earthiness, grit and a surprising sophistication. The good blues harp players use it like a horn to carry a melody, and to produce aggressive, virtuosic solos.

In terms of tone and technique, Son Boy Terry is the best harmonica player in Houston. He's been playing the blues in town since the late '80s; he has paid his dues over much of the last decade in the Joe "Guitar" Hughes band and as president of the Houston Blues Society.

Breakfast Dance, Terry's first CD as a leader, explodes with fully matured ideas. There's the brooding slow burn of "Laundromat Blues," on which Hughes adds an expressive solo to Sonny Boy's melancholy, articulate harp. Another outstanding cut is "Jangle, Jangle (Down Mexico Way)," a mid-tempo Ashton Savoy tune that marries the blues to an eccentric Gulf Coast rhythm. "Business Man" is a classic Chicago blues number that Terry handles with a light touch, while "Take Your Time" benefits from vibraphonist Harry Sheppard's supple and lush tone.

At this point in his career, Terry's vocals essentially are limited to a mid-range. In purely vocal terms, the album's best cut is the aforementioned "Jangle Jangle," on which Terry shares the singing chores with Allison Fisher. That said, let us remember that most of the great blues vocalists favored intensity over pretty technique. Fisher is just one of many notable Houston musicians who appear on Breakfast Dance, but the whole project is anchored by bassist Benny Brasket and drummer Kevin "Snit" Fitzpatrick (formerly with the Hollisters). They give the group a tight sound and a highly rhythmic attack.

Breakfast Dance is a self-released album that sounds like it comes from a major independent label.

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Aaron Howard