Doug Cox & Sam Hurrie, Hungry Ghosts (Northern Blues, 2005)

Every Wednesday night at the Edgewater Pub and Bistro in Comox, B.C., Doug Cox and Sam Hurrie take the stage to play some old blues and regale the audience with tales about the songs and singers they pay tribute to. I've only been to B.C. once, and it was only as a stopover in the Vancouver Airport, so it hardly counts, but if I ever get out there on a Wednesday night, I know where I'll be.

Hungry Ghosts is one of those albums that just sidles up alongside you and makes itself at home. It's mainly just Sam and Doug, playing a variety of guitars, with some vocals and lots of mood. Sure, there're guests. Mary Murphy adds bodhran, dumbek and vocals; Ruthie Foster and Cyd Cassone sing some harmony; Rick May plays bass on a few tracks; and Robb Flannery and Jan Neuspiel add drums on one track each; but most of the sounds here come right from the vibrating strings under the fingers of Doug Cox and Sam Hurrie.

It all starts with "Little Martha" (a Duane Allman tune), Doug on acoustic and Sam on electric, subtle and bluesy. Then it's a Hurrie original called "Cool Drink of Water" with Sam singing and playing acoustic as Doug backs him up on Electro-Reso slide, May's bass providing foundation. The third track finds Cox playing a Celtic Cross Weissenborn and singing as Sam doubles on acoustic and electric guitars. "Beware of the Man (Who Calls You Bro)" was written by Cox, but sounds like it could have come from the repertoire of a traveling bluesman from the '30s. "Grinning In Your Face" is just that, written by Son House. This is the track that features Ruthie Foster and Cyd Cassone, and their vocals add real texture to the song.

"Carry Me Away" features National guitar and National mandolin, which provide a slightly harsher sound than the acoustics, but blend together beautifully on this gospel tune. The Jagger-Richard blues "No Expectations" has been a long-time personal favourite of mine; Cox and Hurrie play it fairly straight, and Doug's solo (on a Rayco Resophonic Dobro) rings out clear and strong.

Other instruments used include a Sven Nordland brass guitar, a Celtic Cross Double-neck Weissenborn, a Mohan Vina, an OMI Dobro and several un-named axes. I'd love to see pictures of this collection -- they all sound wonderful. The album was produced by the duo with Paul Keim. They managed to achieve a lovely warm sound that simply insinuates itself into your life.

[David Kidney]

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