David Johansen and the Harry Smiths David Johansen and the Harry Smiths

Why in the world should this guy get another chance to be taken seriously? Sure, his contribution to the New York Dolls may have been seminal, but images of his cartoon-ish cab driver from Scrooged mesh with visions of Buster Poindexter poised atop a piano, beneath a three-storey pompadour, crooning "Hot Hot Hot" - hardly adding to his musical credibility. Yet, to my complete surprise, this is a near-perfect disc tastefully paying homage to the great music archivist Harry Smith, through the writing of Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt and Sonny Boy Williamson. Johansen, ever the chameleon, has found a sturdy home within this flawless collection of early folk-blues and R&B classics, which showcase his soulful voice as truly inspired by the work of these rural blues pioneers. The accompaniment is sparse - as suits the songs - but the band's contribution is brilliant throughout. Just the right balance of music to vocals, with delicate finger-picked acoustic guitars, mandolin and brushed snare that accentuates rather than overpowers. The mournful "Poor Boy Blues" and the upbeat "On The Wall," both by unknown writers, are outstanding. In addition, the band nails Muddy Waters' "Little Geneva," complete with stinging slide guitar, and does a blissful turn on Dylan's "Delia." Who would have imagined that Johansen's scalded bark of a voice could so shine on material such as this? In fact, his half-spoken, half-sung style marries beautifully to the front-porch demeanour of these rich samples of the music harvested by the late musicologist. Stranger things have happened. (Chesky)