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Jerry Murad and his Harmonicats - Peg o’ My Heart: Their 32 finest 1947-60
see end of review for listing
rec. 1947-60
RETROSPECTIVE RTR4256 [79:30]

Jerry Murad (born Muradian), Don Les (born Leshinski) and Al Fiore (born Fiorentino) were three regular American guys – an Armenian, a Pole and an Italian – who formed one of the weirdest instrumental combos to hit the post-war scene. Formed in 1944 this harmonica trio was one of the longest-lasting vaudeville-type acts, lasting well into the 1960s and beyond, when the band broke up. This nostalgic selection gives us 32 of their finest sides recorded between 1947 and 1960. It was the clever voicings, rich cavernous bass range and virtuosic versatility of the group – allied to a keen interest in echo-chamber effects on disc – that marked out the Harmonicats from other harmonica-toting ensembles of the time. Some readers will recall that the title track of this disc, Peg O’ My Heart, was used as the signature tune for Dennis Potter’s BBC TV series, The Singing Detective.

Murad and the Harmonicats liked a big sound and they expanded the timbral range of the group by including auxiliary instrumentation, such as guitars and pianos. There are some big Hicky guitar licks from Sid Fisher on Weill’s September Song, for example, and a big piano intro courtesy of Jan August on Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered in which, sensitively, there’s not too much ‘production’ going on. It wasn’t the most restful or tranquil of repertoire and it’s really only in 1951, with Charmaine, that we get a thoughtful interpretation with some Light Music strings thrown in for good measure. Elsewhere there are cod-Blues, and light-classical appropriations (Khachaturian, Ippolitov-Ivanov and the like) which offer colouristic shenanigans in spades. I suppose the ultimate in this respect is when the group joined Richard Hayman and his orchestra for a big-time take on Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody – or The Story of Three Loves, as it’s called here. You’ll find ersatz holler blues, waltz time, film and stage vehicles, boogie-lite and much more besides ending on their fabulous version of Mack the Knife. This shows the group at its best – virtuosic and full of communicative fun, the sound of an era.

Something has gone a little awry with the proof reading as the track references in Ray Crick’s booklet notes are missing, and the font size in the dating excessively large. Otherwise, dip into this selection a few at a time to enjoy the band at its vaudeville best.

Jonathan Woolf

Track listing
Peg O' My Heart
Harmonica Boogie
Peggy O'neil
September Song
Valse Bluette
Hair of Gold, Eyes of Blue
Harmonicats Blues
It Must Be True
Harmonicats Boogie
Willow, Weep for Me
The Galloping Comedians
Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
Lezghinka
Harbour Lights
The Sardar March
At Sundown
Roman Guitar
Dynaflow Drive
Flapperette
Charmaine
Sissy
Blues
Hootin' Blues
Night Train
Till I Waltz Again with You
Malaguena
Little Red Monkey
The Harmonica Player
The Story of Three Loves
Just One More Chance
Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White
Mack the Knife