LIVE: Mulebone @ Shepard Park, 8/31/11
Hugh Pool’s guitar pick jabbed at the strings of his resonator guitar while he ran up and down the fretboard, a slide around one of his fingers. The whoosh of his guitar was in harmony with the beat, his foot tapping on a board with a microphone attached. The pulsating rhythm ran on, paving the way for the eventual wail of the harmonica wrapped around his neck. Pool was in the groove, and the blues were flowing from him out into the audience in a tidal wave of embraceable sound.
The words Pool sang that night were not only from his own original songs, but also those of his heroes and mentors, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley, among many other blues legends. Yes, Shepard Park in Lake George was ablaze with the sound of Mulebone’s blues performed by the dynamic duo of Pool and flutist/multi-instrumentalist John Ragusa.
Pool is no stranger to Nippertown, having performed solo or with a trio way back when at Schenectady’s Takin’ It to the Streets Festival, as well as Schenectady’s Central Park Summer Concert series. Most recently he played mesmerized the crowd in Shepard Park as part of the now-defunct Blues Blast fest.
With his pony-tailed hair and laid-back attitude, Pool, by all appearances, looks like a guy who should be playing jam-band music, but once he opens his mouth and that emotion-filled, road-weary tenor voice rushes out, you know he has an intimate understanding of the blues because he’s lived it. During one area visit, he, his wife and kids were living out of station wagon. For real.
Pool’s fashion-model-gorgeous wife is still with him, and his two kids were aggressively manning the merch table, so things aren’t that bad for him these days. In fact, he and Ragusa have been surfing on a wave of blues success.
Touring in support of their brand new album, “Bluesville Sessions,” Mulebone needed only one thing at their Shepard Park tourstop: more people to have witnessed the concert. Yes, a hundred-plus people were there, but where was the regional blues community that night? Asleep at the wheel, for sure.
Who among them remembers a decade or so back when Pool – performing solo – opened for Muddy Waters’ guitarslinger Bob Margolin, who stood in the wings watching Pool perform? Or the 20-minute Robert Johnson monster jam between Margolin and Pool that ensued? Ditto for Pool being somewhere in the middle of the line-up at the Blues Blast, where he blasted the blues out of the park with his power trio, making many in attendance wonder why he wasn’t the headliner. Pool’s performance that day was in Technicolor with the volume turned up, way up.
This time around in tandem with John Ragusa – formerly of the popular Nippertown folk-blues duo Not Necessarily the Blues – Pool was sharing the spotlight. And Ragusa wielded an assortment of non-traditional blues instruments, including the pennywhistle, the flute and the conch – really, no joke – which he effectively used in syncopation with Pools’ guitar, harmonica and foot drum.
It’s safe to say that other than jazz trombone legend Steve Turre, the highly talented Ragusa is the only other conch player around. And after hearing him play the big shell on Chester Burnett’s “How Many More Years,” you’d have to consider him a conch virtuoso.
All in all, Mulebone was a magnificent pairing of talents under a cloudless sky in one of the loveliest outdoor venues anywhere around. Kudos to the Lake George Arts Project’s director John Strong for having the insight to closing the outdoor venue’s summer series with this superb duo.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk