Some albums take a slow-build approach. They start modestly, with some subtlety, drawing the listener in. On his debut release The Right Man, D.K. Harrell takes a very different path. From the opening notes of the opening/title track, he makes it clear that’s he’s an assertive artist. After the briefest of intros, Harrell starts laying out his sinewy lead guitar licks. One phrase in, he starts singing. Yes, it’s an approach that has been employed by countless artists from B.B. King on down, but Harrell demonstrates that he owns the style, too.
The band is the perfect balance of power and taste. Legendary ace bassist Jerry Jemmott is on hand, as are Jim Pugh (keys) and Kid Andersen (on rhythm guitar and production). But Harrell is at the center and front of things. A mere 25 years old, the singer-guitarist displays talent and assuredness far beyond what one might expect of such a young artist. He swaggers on “You’re a Queen,” a shot out to the ladies that sidesteps cliché.
The superb “Get These Blues Out of Me” draws from ‘70s soul with its widescreen string arrangements; the song is reminiscent of Albert King’s Stax-era work. “You’d Be Amazed” lays down some busy funk foundations atop which Harrell lays tasty leads. “While I’m Young” doesn’t break any new ground, but it deftly stirs a bit of classic country texture (via Pugh’s piano work) into the mix.
A rock-solid deep groove, “Not Here for a Long Time” skillfully mixes a Hendrix-style rock arrangement with funk, soul and blues. The hypnotic riff at the song’s core never wears out its welcome. With its unadorned production vibe, “Hello Trouble” is a slab of classic blues. It’s followed by a reprise of “Not Here for a Long Time,” a looser take on the song featuring off-the-cuff spoken vocals, a biting clavinet solo, a Jemmott spotlight and lively crowd noises.
“Honey Ain’t So Sweet” breathes new life into a familiar blues form. The uptempo “Leave it at the Door” is made even better with spirited gang backing vocals and Tony Coleman’s hard-hitting drum work. And the album ends in live-show fashion, with a late-night last round “One for the Road.” Pugh’s swirling organ work draws the listener in, and the band – again, with Harrell’s lean ‘n’ mean guitar out front – takes things home with what may well be an extemporaneous jam.
All told, The Right Man is a tasty slice of timeless blues. Expect great things from D.K. Harrell in the future, but don’t overlook this, his fully accomplished opening salvo. It’s a brilliant debut.