The past two years of Covid restrictions have just been a total drag for musicians, music lovers, club owners, sound techs and anyone else with ears. That’s stating the obvious, but this live album by the Harpoonist and the Axe Murder just might be the closest thing to being at a killer live show in a crowded bar.

Way back in late 2019, in those “normal” times, Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers spent three sweat-filled nights in Calgary’s legendary blues bar and former hangout of Ralph Klein, the King Eddy. They were backed by two female singers and a Hammond organ player, and these extra stellar musicians were the icing on the cake. Anyone who has seen the Harpaxe  live knows how much noise and energy can be generated by just the two of them. Rogers wails on his grungy Telecaster, Hall blows as much air into his harp as a Lethbridge wind storm, and both of them continually have both feet working pedals to make up a percussion section. 

Over the past fifteen years or so they have won Maple Blues, West Coast Music and Sirius XM awards as well as a Juno nomination. Hall and Rogers  met at a recording session in 2006, found common ground in the blues and have been touring and recording ever since.

This live recording has numerous grooves, mainly relies on two or three chords and the truth, but the energy never lets up. 

Do Watcha has a Howlin Wolf  feel à la Smokestack Lightning, with pounding bass drum and a woman with a “chassis of steel.” Pretty Pretty Please includes a torrent of words reminiscent of Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business. Hard on Things, written by Corin Raymond and Rob Vaarmeyer in 6/8 time, may sound like a double entendre, but it’s a serious piece of self-analysis: “Hard on tires, hard on wheels, hard on clutches hard on brakes, I’m hardest on my own mistakes.” Hall’s soulful  voice is a reminiscent of Otis Redding’s only with more grit. The backup musicians add another dimension, especially vocalist Dawn Pemberton who absolutely shines with her solo introduction on Roll with the Punches. They get down and dirty on Sarah, who makes you happy as a hippy listening to the Grateful Dead, and “it could be Sunday or Monday, that I’ll find one way to get inside your pants.”

Further bonus: the album was recorded on the Rolling Stones mobile studio, which has been acquired by the Calgary Music Centre. Built in 1968, it has been refurbished and this is as good a live recording that you can find. It’s so good, in fact, that it’ll make you wish you were in Cowtown back in 2019.    (Mike Sadava)