I didn’t really know Wylie Harold until I heard this recent release. Turns out, he’s a blues institution in and around the Peterborough area and has been for years. And, for a guy who lives for the local bar scene, clubs, patios and the people he plays to, the pandemic has been brutal. Playing in various bands along the way (Half Ton, The Bottoms Up Blues Band), Harold did his due diligence in rock’n’roll yet was eventually courted by the blues, which lent itself to playing solo as often as possible. With his current band, Out On Bail, he waits for the return of live music for the chance to perform this album in the flesh. As an entry into the pantheon of quality Canadian blues recordings, It is What It Is is actually more than the sum of its parts. It features a dozen Harold originals couched in the contributions of his rather sensational band. Harold sings and contributes harp, lead/rhythm/slide guitar while Wayne O’Connor positively shines on both lead and rhythm guitar. Richard Simpkins provides solid bass and background vocals while drummer John Climenhage adds background vocals as well. Guest musicians include Rod Phillips (piano/B3), Brent Bailey (piano), William Hamilton (sax), JP Hovercraft (bass), Bridget Foley (lead and background vocals) and Sian Wilson (background vocals). 

From the simple shuffle of “Oh, I’m Tired”, with its great horns and solid vocals, to “The Ballad of Loose Women and Pickpockets”, with its great harp, slinky bass and cutting guitar solo, this release delivers far more than you’d expect from someone you might not have heard of. Harold exudes confidence while his band bolsters his every move across what is clearly a songwriter’s collection of strong, original material. The concept is tightly themed and carefully choreographed, from its album art to its sturdy blues arrangements – resulting in a breath of fresh air, mask on or off. Sure, there are hiccups and burrs here and there but, for the most part, the majority of these songs are keepers. “How Long Can This Go On” is a fun, slippery presentation woven together by solid harp-playing. “Take Me Back To The Good Old Days” features smart lyrics, wicked harp, tight drumming and inventive, out-of-the-ordinary guitar lines – a modern blues shuffle that longs for the past. “I Hate To See A Grown Man Cry” slows things down to focus on strong vocals and harp, effective honky-tonk piano, stellar lead guitar and some lovely B3 while the stunning “I Can’t Try Anymore”, jumps the queue with its soulful, R&B-charged use of Foley’s voice and the power of backup singers, revealing a level of compositional sophistication that can’t be seen enough in blues circles. And lest you forget there’s a leader behind this band, Wylie Harold’s simple-yet-effective use of acoustic slide and harp on his solo, “All My Women Leave Me”, underlines his unwavering hand on an exceptionally solid – and authentic – blues release, designed to help us break out of these doldrums for good. (Eric Thom)