My Most-Listened-To Harmonica Records of 2023

My Most-Listened-To Harmonica Records of 2023

Wow! Last year, I heard a lot of great harmonica music that I’d never heard before! :grin: Undoubtedly, listening to these records challenged me to become a better player.

Tired of listening to the same old harmonica records from the 60’s and 70’s?

All of these albums were released in the last 10 years or so…

Ready to get inspired by some newer players?

:pushpin: As you may know, I’m a huge Lee Oskar fan, and his 2023 album release She Said Mahalo is no exception. I guess you’d classify the genre as World Music or Jazz.The track Most Favored Nation is a great example of a tasteful use of an octave pedal on a clean harmonica sound. My favorite track on the album is Funky Rhetoric.

Funky Rhetoric is played in 2nd position on an F harmonica in what Lee calls his “blues tuning.” What is Lee’s Blues tuning? First, he takes his Melody Maker tuning (the 3 is tuned up a half-step, and the -5 and -8 are both tuned up a half-step) and he tunes the -7 down a half-step (tuning the -7 down a half-step is referred to as Parrott-tuning, and helps play blues licks in the top octave in 2nd position).

You can check out She Said Mahalo on your favorite digital streaming platform.

:pushpin: Last year when I heard the Carlos Del Junco Band’s 2017 live record Just Your Fool it instantly became my favorite of Del Junco’s discography. The guitar player is a total shredder and shines just as much as Carlos does on harp. Carlos is a virtuosic modern blues harmonica player. Available on streaming platforms.

:pushpin: Joe Filisko & Eric Noden (aka The Roots Duo) 2018 release Destination Unknown. I’ve called Joe Filisko the foremost living expert on the harmonica, and I don’t think you’d find many pros who’d squabble with me on that. Nobody has studied early blues harmonica recordings as much as Filisko. His playing is humble and understated, and sounds deceptively simple. I’m not in love with every track on the album. But the brilliant harmonica playing is ear-bending throughout. My favorite song is probably the Sonny Terry-esque title track, Destination Unknown.

This album will show you what a master of breathing and big chordssounds like. I’ve been studying tongue blocking with him for about 5 years, and he signs off on his emails “Joe Filisko aka the Chord Whisperer.” And indeed he is! You can find Destination Unknown on digital streaming platforms by searching for “Joe Filisko & Eric Noden.”

:pushpin: Another Canadian, and in fact Carlos Del Junco’s early mentor, Roly Platt’s album Inside Out from 2014 is one of my favorite discoveries from last year. His version of Over the Rainbow instantly became my favorite rendition of the tune, which he plays on a C country-tuned harmonica, in 2nd position in the key of G. (Country-tuning raises the -5 a half-step.) Inside Out has a lot of cool funk songs, and he makes cool use of the auto-wah effect pedal, kinda like he does here. You’ve gotta buy the CD from his website though. It’s not available on streaming platforms.

:pushpin: I’ve mentioned the North Carolina overblow virtuoso Todd Parrott a few times recently. I’ve taken several lessons with him since meeting him at SPAH last year. A couple months ago I bought his album Songs from the Harp. There are aspects of the production that I’m not in love with - for my tastes it’s a bit too clean - but his blazing gospel riffs and soulful use of overblows are second to none. Total shredder as you can see here, for example. Meeting Todd changed my life. This is another one you have to buy the CD from his website though, it’s not available on streaming services.

:pushpin: Grant Dermody is a harmonica player from Louisiana whom I met at SPAH. He gave me a copy of his 2022 release Digging in John’s Backyard. Upon hearing it, I was instantly enchanted with his gorgeous tone. He’s in the same camp as Filisko. This album is good ‘ole acoustic blues, and you can check it out on streaming services.

:pushpin: I’ve also mentioned Jerry Fierro recently because of how much I enjoyed his Sonny Terry workshop at SPAH, where he shared excerpts of tape recordings from lessons he took with the blues master. Jerry is originally from Long Island, but now resides in Florida, and his group Mudbone has a live record called Live at the Dogtooth. When I put this CD in my car, I listened to it on repeat for about 3 months; I LOVE THIS ALBUM!!! It’s got some blues, but is very heavy on the FUNK, and Jerry Fierro’s playing is incredibly tasteful through it all.

The musicianship of ALL the musicians on this recording is astounding, and I found their choice of repertoire and extended solos to be soul-nourishing (very funky, which is my wheelhouse.) This is another one you gotta buy the CD though, it’s not available on streaming services.

:pushpin: The other harmonica player I really listened to extensively last year for the first time is the great Buddy Greene - arguably the best living Countryand Gospel player (though his Classical stuff ain’t too shabby either, as you can see here). I’ve made a Spotify playlist of his great harmonica recordings that are available on the platform. You can check it out here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!