George McConkey Breathes Life Into the Harmonica

George McConkey has a new album out that displays his song writing ability and features some great classic tunes. More on that later, first, a digression.

I’m a humble little bit of tin and horn/I’m a byword, I’m a plaything, I’m a jest;

The virtuoso looks on me with scorn/But there’s times when I am better than the best.

~Robert W. Service, The Song of the Mouth Organ

Powerful words, written by a man who knew a thing or two about putting them together. The title of the McConkey’s album comes from this Service poem and creates a thesis that forms the foundation of his CD, Tin and Bone.

The harmonica, the harp, the mouth organ, the harpoon … all are words that essentially describe the one nondescript instrument that you can equally tuck in a pocket or dirty red bandanna.

In the mouth of a novice or child, treated as a toy, it can sound a racket, but in the hands and with the breath of a true acolyte it can equally express pain and joy with seemingly breathless abandon.

St. Anne’s Reel and Mystery Train both provide a clear example of this energy. My favourite on the album is Lost John: just a voice, a harmonica and a driving stomp.

Check out the song Mariposa to see how a harmonica can sing. McConkey exposes us to an openness of tone and nuance from this instrument that take on the character and expressiveness of a butterfly itself. It has a halting bittersweet tone, but allows enough sunlight and warmth through to remind you of a summer — in the middle of a winter — afternoon.

McConkey is a natural singer and songwriter. Up On The Dempster and Summer People expose his perspectives on living and working in the Yukon. These songs both have an unmistakable down-to-earth feel.

More than just a country singer, McConkey moves easily in the genres of folk and blues.

On the track Trouble No More, a Muddy Waters cover, he employs a miking technique that is immediately recognizable as a Chicago blues sound … Chicago by way of Dawson City that is.

There is a bounce to many of these songs: his compositions and the ones he chooses to cover. I would take the song Sitting On Top Of The World and go as far as to say one could easily cakewalk to it. Sometimes a blues song moves you in an opposite direction. Sometimes you need a little cakewalk in your life to realize this.

“… and now she’s gone, but I don’t worry ’cause I’m sittin’ on top of the world”.

Tin and Bone closes with an interpretation of Robert Services’, The Song Of The Mouth Organ. Not only is it a rare treat to hear Service spoken aloud, but with McConkey’s harmonica soundtrack the magic to the listener is doubled.

Check out George McConkey on the web at Tin and Bone can be found at all fine local CD purveyors.

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