Review: Durham County Poets, “Hand Me Down Blues”

Durham County Poets - Hand Me Down Blues

The Durham County Poets, who have recently been nominated for a Maple Blues Award, are a lively and soulful group, who write and perform an eclectic blend of blues and folk, with tinges of gospel and swing tossed in for good measure. They are five seasoned musicians, all of whom are songwriters, who work together individually and collaboratively in composing their music. Delving into a variety of styles and genres, their musical influences include a broad range of artists. Fronted by Kevin Harvey, a self proclaimed blues crooner on lead vocals, The Durham County Poets also feature David Whyte on electric guitars and vocals, Neil Elsmore on guitars and vocals, Carl Rufh on double bass and vocals and Rob Couture (formerly of The Echo Hunters) on drums and percussion.

I met the band a few years ago at a festival in New Brunswick, I loved their performances, it was raw and honest and what stuck out the most was the way they conducted themselves on and off the stage, sincere, professional, they were like a band of brothers. Since then I have watched the evolution of the band with great interest and was very impressed with their last album ‘Grimshaw Road’ which gained a lot of traction for them and contained some amazing tracks. I became an even bigger fan when their latest release ‘Hand Me Down Blues’ dropped through the post, it’s a nod to their early influences and contains tracks that sometimes defy pigeon holing, that is the magic that lies within The Durham County Poets, they transcend boundaries effortlessly.

All of the members of the band can remember playing music whilst of school age; some of them were introduced to music through their visits to church. Frontman Kevin Harvey has said that his moment of epiphany came when at 19 years old he saw Muddy Waters perform in Montreal; Kevin pushed his way to the front of stage, and as he looked up at Muddy Waters, their eyes met during a guitar solo, Muddy winked at Kevin and he knew it was a sign, Muddy without speaking had said ‘ welcome to the blues son.’

The first cut, written as a collaboration by all the members of the band, ‘Hand Me Down Blues,’ is a stand out track and sets the tone of the album up extremely well, it’s a bluesy swing number that the band execute in their own inimitable style so well, and that’s the key word here, style, The Durham County Poets have it in abundance, it’s a groove, a beat, a vocal line that can’t be reproduced by others, you feel the tightness of the playing and upon listening to the lyrics intently, they truly are poets.

Stand out tracks include  ‘Evil In The Heart’ which was written a year prior to recording the album by Kevin Harvey, he wanted to write about today’s religion, politics and beliefs without being overly critical, rather, he wanted to write about the lack of respect, tolerance and empathy in today’s society looking through his own lens and his own heart, resisting the temptation to speak and think ill of others, and to embrace love and respect in the world. A powerful message backed up by some stellar playing throughout.

Another fabulous track written by Neil Elsmore on the album was influenced by Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker, Duke Robillard and others who have all written about failed relationships, Neil comes from the angle of a husband and wife poking the finger at each other in an argument, realizing in the end that it’s not worth it, they decide to work it out, because ‘That Ain’t Right.’

Guest musicians on the album are plentiful, including none other than International Blues Challenge winner and one of Canada’s blues elite’s, Dawn Tyler Watson, who has been nominated for four Maple Blues Awards in 2019, she is an unbelievable talent from Montreal who contributes to ‘ With A Little Help From My Friends ‘ an excellent version of the Lennon/ McCartney song, and also has a hand in another Neil Elsmore track ‘Help Me To Change.’

This band are a lot of fun on stage, they ooze energy which emanates out to their audiences at festivals and gigs, they have excellent song craft and musicianship, their stage craft is extremely polished and slick, for bands it can sometimes be hard to replicate what they do live and capture it for a recording, delightfully, The Durham County Poets have managed to bottle up all their magic on this album and when you press play, the genie is released in the form of ‘Hand Me Down Blues.’

Visit The Durham County Poets on Bandcamp.

An award winning piper, composer and singer / songwriter from Edinburgh, Scotland now based in Ontario, Canada, Stevie is the founder of Blues and Roots Radio, a multi award winning media platform established in 2012, based just outside of Toronto, with a hub in Melbourne, Australia. He has been recognized in 2014 and 2017 by the Mississauga Board Of Trade and Legislature of Ontario for his work in support and promotion of independent artists across Canada and around the world. He has in the past been honoured to sit on national music award panels.

He is currently head of programming and music director at Blues and Roots Radio where he oversees the running of two online radio channels and reviews the many releases sent to the station for airplay consideration.

He is passionate about the Canadian independent music scene and covers as many live events as time will allow.

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