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Guitarist Dave Riley and harpist Bob Corritore find plenty of room to play on Travelin’ the Dirt Road, a 10-track collection that’s original in composition but very much traditional in both sound and spirit. These two blues veterans aren’t out to propel the genre into the 21st century, but that’s more than okay: their honed instrumental chops—along with Riley’s gritty, powerful vocal presence—recall the best of the acoustic and electric blues traditions, never straying far from the original source and making this album a great place to visit.
Produced by the Phoenix-based Corritore, a prolific, Grammy-nominated producer in addition to club owner and radio host, Travelin’ the Dirt Road (Blue Witch Records) features eight original songs by the Gibson 335-wielding Riley, with the other two penned by the late John Weston, Riley’s friend and former bandmate.
Corritore and the Mississippi-born Riley have been frequent musical collaborators since meeting three years ago, and their mutual respect for urban blues comes as no surprise: Both musicians spent their formative years in the Windy City. Riley moved to the city’s West Side as a teen, not far from the historic Maxwell Street blues scene. Frequently immersed in gospel music as a teen, he went on to serve in Vietnam, spending at least some of his time in the Army traveling to various bases and performing for troops and at USO shows. Corritore, meanwhile, learned his craft from some of the city’s quintessential harp talents, including Big Walter Horton and Junior Wells. In all, Corritore has appeared on more than two-dozen recordings.
The songs on Travelin’ the Dirt Road firmly capture each man’s respective roots, visiting the Delta on acoustic numbers like “Overalls” and “Safe at Last,” meanwhile recalling the 1950s- and ‘60s-era Chicago club scene, evidenced by the Little Walter-inspired harp sound of the title track. But this release, despite its nod to tradition, is ultimately more about musicianship than re-creating familiar sounds.
Riley and Corritore are at their best on extended jams like “Come Here Woman,” which clocks in at more than seven and a half minutes, “Way Back Home,” a driving shuffle complemented by piano, and the Wetton-composed “Doggone Blues,” where Corritone’s harp dances and darts around Riley’s skilled runs and bends. These tunes, along with many others, capture the two bluesmen stretching out—and having a lot of fun doing it.