by Steve Winnick

I may have spoken too soon about the Jesus and Devil thing, because there’s none of that on Grant Dermody’s latest album Sun Might Shine on Me, and his press material speaks a lot about Tibetan Buddhism. Dermody, a harmonica player who has worked with blues giants like John Cephas, Phil Wiggins, and Honeyboy Edwards, says that Buddhism and the Blues are both about diving underneath pain or hard times, so they don’t take you over; about feeling better, not feeling sad. On the new CD, his harmonica and voice lead an all-star ensemble including old-time and Cajun guitarist Dirk Powell, Louisiana Creole fiddler Cedric Watson, blues mandolinist Rich del Grosso, folk and blues guitarist Orville Johnson, and swamp-pop drummer Jockey Etienne. They’re all masters and their playing hangs together beautifully, creating perfect settings for Dermody’s harp and voice. His soulful harp work on classics like Skip James’s “Illinois Blues,” the traditional “When You Left,” and the original “Ain’t Going Back” reminds me of his mentor Phil Wiggins. His voice goes from a gravelly growl to a clear, tuneful croon — would it be sacrilege to say it reminds me in some places of Sinatra? My favorites include “Baby Please Don’t Go,” a song I’ve heard from tons of folks including Van Morrison and Them, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Big Joe Williams; “Tree of Life,” an original instrumental that sounds like an Irish folk tune with blues touches; and the upbeat title track. I also love the traditional folk material, including the epic blues ballad “Boll Weevil,” a Creolized version of “Sail Away Ladies,” and an instrumental version of the Cajun lost love anthem “J’ai Passé Devant Ta Porte.” Dermody has a knack for feeling out the material and creating heartfelt settings, and his band and producers made it shine indeed. See the video below!

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