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D.K. Harrell — The Right Man

If someone tries handing you the line that the blues has withered away on the vine. That no longer does anyone know how to cleanly pull fire out from a guitar like back when such potent string dazzlers as T-Bone, Gatemouth, or, better yet, B.B. reigned. That the overdrive and bombast of rock-and-roll has squashed the finesse as well as the blueness out from the music. That one more overworn, fatigued rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago” or “Baby, Please Don’t Go” is the final straw. If any or all of these gripes get aired …

… spin them D.K. Harrell’s debut, The Right Man. Or, if time is limited, then just the opening title track alone will work, whose instantaneous aura sets the hook for the album’s 48 remaining minutes anyway.

Then, rejoice in the glory of an unmuddled, humbuckered blues bash.

Because the 25-year-old Louisianan addresses each of those very issues, proactively. Come on: The man on the album cover is wearing a suit and tie. Coaxing out stream after stream of precise, daggered notes from that shapely Gibson ES-355. And without any exaggerated facial grimacing or flame-enhanced posing.

The Right Man’s strengths keep snowballing from there: Eleven original songs. All brand-new. Zero rehash. Deluxe arrangements. And not a whiff of fuzzbox or rock hysteria. As for the King connection (if the ES-355 didn’t already start synapses firing): Harrell’s first paying gig was a 2019 symposium at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Miss., where he gave a real workout to the strings of a lent “Lucille.” More universally, though, it’s how his bright, brisk, pointed attack gets guitar lines to skip across, then punch through, the rhythm.

“Leave It at the Door,” the midtempo “Honey Ain’t So Sweet,” and “Hello Trouble” each back that claim. Except on “Hello Trouble,” his expressive voice, often swooping high in a holler and burning its way off the album, gives the fretsmanship a real run for the prize. “Not Here for a Long Time” splits into two: The first part being rubberized funk while the second plays out as a free-for-all band introduction given atop an equally hip, loose vamp. Call it swing or bounce or fizz: Whatever it is, “While I’m Young” has got it in full, right down to the backup singers charged with churchy gospel energy. Then, with feet planted on solid ground like Albert King and responding similarly to the crosscut-saw-like action of “You’d Be Amazed,” Harrell busily chucks steely girders from the frets. It’s quite a frothy shake. And it’s also the session’s longest track. Yet, give him the spring-loaded “You’re a Queen,” the one with the refrain delivered in a vocal swoosh, and he can make it strut down the street, high-fiving everyone along the route.

The Right Man even goes as far as sporting a gutsy throwback element: A sweeping string section, of all things, is let to swoon with the blues once again, as was famously brokered on 1969’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” A bold, sophisticated move in these sonically-aggressive modern times. Yet “Get These Blues Out of Me,” awash with symphonic waves coloring and underscoring the minor-key worriment above, triumphantly reaffirms that synergism between fire and ice, barroom and concert hall.

And Harrell is free to do all this, having packed his band with ringers: drummer Tony Coleman (a 30-year veteran of the B.B. King Band), bassist Jerry Jemmott (who recorded the original “The Thrill Is Gone” with King) and organist Jim Pugh (a former member of the Robert Cray Band). Any horns? For sure. In fact, a whole feisty herd of them. All that synergism then baits the session’s producer, Kid Anderson, out from behind the studio glass to actively get in his licks on rhythm guitar.

If you need to reaffirm faith in the state of the blues—or have exhausted your supply of B.B. (and Albert) records—D.K. Harrell’s The Right Man is crucial. Because this is definitely the start of something good.

Label: Little Village Foundation

Release Date: 6/30/2023

Artist Website:

Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski

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1 Comment

Excellent review! Just started listening to this album yesterday and there's no doubt that D.K. is the real deal.

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