Mississippi Heat is a blues (more or less) band based in Chicago, led by a Belgian immigrant scarily adept on the harmonica. Depending on occasion (sounds like I’m advertising them to bookers!), the basic minimum personnel is variously augmented (like some symphony orchestras too!) by differing numbers of occasional members, and sometimes—as with Lurrie Bell on guitar here—a guest member. He’s inside the band rather than coming on as any sort of star. He’s a capable enough musician to know that the band’s as good as he is.
Pierre Lacocque is the leader, Inetta Visor the powerful lady singer. Without further inquiring into what happens at other times and in other places, the regulars gigging at Rosa’s Lounge when this music was recorded there live (both audio CD and DVD) were Kenny Smith on drums, Spurling Banks, bass, Chris Cameron, storming on organ and piano variations, and Max Valldeneu on guitar. I think Lurrie Bell plays throughout, and sings on a couple of numbers as well. It’s all very decently together.
I’ll not disagree with the Chicago Reader comment that Lacocque “is that rare younger generation harpist who’s absorbed the lessons of subtlety, silence, and solo construction from the masters”. Though I can’t claim to be au fait with that many of the younger generation referred to, I would add that beyond question Lacocque’s blues harmonica playing has the further scope of such later blues guitarists as (obviously) Otis Rush, and maybe even more Buddy Guy, where the at times more scream-like vocal work brings the music closer to the gospel-inflected.
Lacocque’s harmonica work does seem the major factor in holding his band’s music with Chicago blues rather than with R&B / soul or their various progeny. The opener can dig deep foundations because the boss has worked out how to develop a very extended blues harmonica solo. Use of organ rather than piano seems necessary a lot of the time, given the underflow character of the accompaniment.
After a healthy bubbling simmer has been established with the instrumental “Rosa’s Strut”—featuring much harmonica as well as solos from guitar and also organ—Lurrie Bell is launched on one of his two vocal outings, with Muddy Waters’ “She’s 19 Years Old” (composed by St. Louis Jimmy Oden) on which he also plays individual guitar (is he the guitar soloist on the opener?). Where Muddy sang the glories of the young lady, Lurrie—lacking the glamorous view of the old maestro—offers us complaints about her. Who is more faithful to Mr. Oden’s text?
Then the band’s regular vocalist is introduced, Inetta Visor—another worthy successor to Ida Cox, Mamie Smith and other ladies who sang more than the blues. Quite in keeping with what the English nephew of these ladies, George Melly, calls their independent neo-Freudianism, Ms. Visor prefaces “I’ve Got to Sleep with One Eye Open” with satirical comments about the yearnings of TV’s “desperate housewives”, vexed in the city. The song has another precedent in Tampa Red’s old complaint about the demands of a lady partner, who like the object of Ms. Visor’s complaints can’t be satisfied and keeps trying.
On “Dirty Deal”, low-note harmonica underlines her further complaints about a rogue, cad and bounder, with more virtuoso soloing from Lacocque, who switches to the squeezed sound of Jimmy Reed behind Ms. Visor’s very much soul / R&B rendition of Reed’s “Honest I Do”. Where Reed’s own delivery dried out his performance of the song (as in a Martini!), Ms. Visor’s is nearer Aretha Franklin, whose own “Rock Steady” gets a sturdy delivery. Lacocque does not lack wind power, nor the band gusto!
“Jukin’ ” with piano is a dance item, an instrumental harmonica feature modeled on Little Walter’s “Juke”, and we are very much in B.B. King blues territory with Lurrie Bell’s second vocal outing, “Cold, Cold Feelin’ “, performed with admirable coarseness. “Cool Twist” is a song about a dance, with funky piano, and Max Valldeneu introduced by name showing his own guitar paces on a sort-of pop song essayed with varying success by bluesmen on Chess label singles in the 1960s. I’d have liked to hear Ms. Visor in a straight-up old blues mode too. Lacocque, incidentally, is apparently a “new man”, to judge from some of the songs he has composed for Ms. Visor. A man who wants to please a woman shouldn’t restrict consultation to a clique of his buddies, so his words go. Men and women aren’t from respectively Mars and Venus, but are human beings alike. Be friends with differently-gendered fellow earthlings! Don’t restrict discussion to your own kind? This would be good advice for British government politicians!
“Listen Here” is the sign-off, complete with announcements as featured throughout. Mississippi heat put on a good show. Eddie Harris gets composer credit for this closer’s merry blast of barking and riffing harmonica and guitar, with a relentless backbeat on drums and indications that the good time had by all probably also extended across the bonus track which buyers of the DVD will find. This is an argument for live music, right enough!