The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

CD Review: Bruce "Creeper" Kurnow

Bruce Kurnow: Harmonica


Honk If You Love Harmonica
Dance of My Ancestors
Barn Dance #1
Chicken Blues
The Dream Choir
Gimme the Worm
The Exile
The Canyon
The Road to Harmonicaland
Baker Beach
Barn Dance #2
(all selections composed by the artist)

total time: 50 min. and 10 sec.
released: 1999
review date: October 1999

label: Switch Back Productions
PO Box 385258
Bloomington, MN 55438
612-946-6996 Phone
612-946-6994 Fax

Review by Robert Karl Berta :

This is a most interesting recording. Bruce has applied some electronic processing to the sound of a variety of harmonicas creating quite moving and unusual sounds. I should probably warn you that if you are a "purist" you may not feel comfortable with the way Bruce treats the is often very much unlike any harmonica you are likely to have heard. But if you are open minded you will certainly come away with an appreciation for a most creative venture that is for the most part very successful.

Bruce certainly has the credentials to suggest that he knows what he is doing. With past performances with Mojo Buford, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Mason Proffit Band, Doug Maynard Band and 21 solo recordings and 4 Minnesota Music Awards to his name, Bruce has the background that makes you want to listen to what he is creating. And with those credentials he doesn't have to worry about breaking new ground and leaving some people of the old school behind.

Much of what is on this recording reminds me of tone poems...experiments in sound that repeat themes with variations and explore the nuances of sound. In some of the selections this reminds me of blues harmonica treatments but with a different twist. In The Dream Choir he uses electronic processing to really play with your mind. I would bet if you didn't know that a harmonica was the instrument of choice that would be your last guess as to the instrument!

I found the Gimme the Worm to be an amusing selection. It is supposed to depict baby birds screaming in their nest for their food. This one works....all I needed was a video of the nest to make it complete!

Evidently Bruce spent some time in San Francisco. Since I live in San Francisco myself I found a couple of tunes most interesting since they were based on themes from two SF areas. First, in Honk if You Love Harmonica he relates how it was a musical simulation of the honking of car horns while driving through the Waldo Tunnel. This tunnel connects the Marin side of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Motorists love to honk their horns as they drive through the tunnel to hear the echoes. You haven't lived until you have been stuck in the tunnel during slow traffic and had a wedding party go through! While this musical selection might be lost on someone who hasn't experienced the Waldo tunnel it certainly brings back memories to me.

Another SF theme is found in Baker Beach. This is a public beach along the entry into the San Francisco Bay located in the Presidio (previously a military reservation) that is a popular attraction. Here Bruce introduced some "waves" probably through a synthesizer. This was the one tune that didn't quite work for me. I found the use of the "waves" to be a little too cutesy.

Overall though I thought this was a most daring recording. I am sure that you will have a very divided camp of listeners. There will be the hardcore acoustic harmonica aficionados who will hate this. On the other hand you will have those willing to push the envelope who will readily accept what Bruce has accomplished and encourage him to do more of the can count me as one of the latter.

Date: Wed, 03 Nov 1999 14:41:15 -0600

Dear Robert:

I just discovered your review of Harmonicaland and want to thank you very much for all your nice comments. This will be a big help in getting the word out about my work. It was great to find out you are in San Francisco, which you probably figured out is my favorite city. My wife and I just got back from there and are looking for a place in Petaluma to live part of the year. Eventually, we would like to live there exclusively. Anyway, thanks again for taking time to review my recording!

Bruce Kurnow

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