With debut album, D.K. Harrell proves he’s The Right Man to carry on the blues

As much as we like telling you about new music from the Duwayne Burnsides, Leonard “Lowdown” Browns, and other acts who have been playing the blues now for decades, there’s perhaps nothing more gratifying than being able to introduce you to some of the rising stars of the genre (including the likes of Gary Clark Jr., Fantastic Negrito, Ben Levin, Eddie 9V and others during the past almost decade and a half of this blog’s existence) who are helping to ensure that the future of the blues is in good hands.

We first encountered D.K. Harrell during the star-studded celebration of the expansion of the B.B. King Museum in June 2021, where Harrell shared the stage with such talents as Gary Clark Jr.,¬†Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, King’s longtime drummer Tony “TC” Coleman, Kenny Neal, Vasti Jackson, Mr. Sipp, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Selwyn Birchwood and many others. While everyone of course did a terrific job playing B.B.’s music, Harrell was one of the few performing that day (along perhaps with Coleman, who, remind you, spent three decades backing B.B.) you’d swear might actually have been channeling the King.

Playing as part of the band Soul Nite the following spring, Harrell won third place at the 2022 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. And now comes the 25-year-old Harrell with his latest feat in the form of his impressive debut album The Right Man (Little Village Foundation).

No one, we’re sure, would have held it against Harrell had he chosen to include a King cover or two on his first album, as strong the similarities between Harrell and B.B. in their playing, singing, and phrasing. Once you hear Harrell perform, you might wonder if he’s really the King reincarnated, so it’s pretty admirable that all 11 songs on Harrell’s debut are originals — and quality ones at that.

From the stinging guitar and cutting lyrics (i.e., “Well I know you’re gonna cry, when I leave this broken home/ well, I know, I know, I know, you’re gonna put your head in your hand, and keep asking yourself: why did I wrong the right man?”) of the opening title track, it’s clear that this album has a whole lot of potential, to which we’re happy to report Harrell easily lives up.

Whether it’s slower, swaying numbers (like the strings-accented “Get These Blues Out of Me,” a blues-drenched “Hello Trouble” or the viscous “Honey Ain’t So Sweet”) or funky tracks (such as “Not Here for a Long Time,” which, as its lyrics state, is all about a good time — and even more so on its reprise that allows Harrell to introduce the members of the extremely talented core band [which includes former B.B. band members Coleman on drums and Jerry Jemmott on bass — “that’s him on ‘The Thrill is Gone’!” — along with Kid Andersen on rhythm guitar and Jim Pugh on keyboards] and gives each a chance to solo, having such a good time that Andersen jokingly yells for a part three to the song at the conclusion –, the uptempo “You’d Be Amazed” or a “You’re a Queen” that sounds a lot like something you’d hear from blues rocker Ana Popovic), or anything in between, no challenge is apparently too big for Harrell, who completely aces it all.

“While I’m Young” is a soulful, Bobby “Blue” Bland-ish number that reminds us to do all you can while you can, with similar encouragement coming on the groovy, party-atmosphered “Leave It at the Door”¬† (“If your love life is down in the dumps, leave it at the door/ said, if you’re feelin’ like a sorry chump, it’s alright, leave it at the door/ well, you gon’ forget about it anyways, when D.K. and his band start to play/ so just leave it, leave it at the door”) before the album closes on the shuffling “One for the Road” that allows the band members to stretch out one last time. Horns, strings and background vocals add some lovely touches throughout the album, which was excellently recorded and produced by Andersen at his Greaseland studio.

Harrell’s singing, songwriting and playing are all stunning, the range of each already far exceeding the short time he’s been doing it. We had a feeling there was something special about this guy from the first time we heard him, and this debut album confirms it. If you’re looking for a fresh face and voice who can deliver familiar-sounding traditional blues just like some of the masters, Harrell is indeed The Right Man!

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