Bob Corritore & Friends
Spider in My Stew

4/5 reels
4/5

Surprise is overrated. Albums don't need to shock us or deviate from a successful formula to be enjoyable. For the past few albums, harmonica player Bob  Corritore's used the same playbook: gather some blues-loving colleagues and record solid songs. It's classic blues, but in the same way a gift of a million dollars is no less appreciated when presented in a clear bag, Spider in My Stew is still plenty of fun, even though Corritore fans will know what to expect.

It's because Corritore knows how to work a good blues. He starts with a solid band, finds talented singers and soloists, and then thoughtfully lays down his harmonica, fleshing out the songs, filling in gaps, and generally taking every track to a higher level. And even though you see many of the same guests across albums, it's still welcome, like seeing old friends after a brief break.

Corritore takes on classic songs, like "Wang Dang Doodle," featuring singer Shy Perry. The Willie Dixon tune, immortalized by Howlin' Wolf, is a blues classic, and Corritore keeps it pretty straight-forward. They push the tempo, not into rock or punk territory, but a bit like a rocking chair that's gotten away from its passenger. Perry has a strong voice. If Howlin' Wolf sang like barbed wire, Perry's vocals are the poles holding up the fence. She has an infectious energy, almost as if she's powered by the track. And Corritore is brilliant, with a tone that lets his harmonica take up much of the tune, not in a greedy way, but more in how he's an uncontainable force of nature.

But Corritore also takes on non-blues artists. Specifically, Bob Dylan, with his cover of "I Shall Be Released," sung by Francine Reed. While Reed is a blues singer, here she gives the rock standard a gospel tone, her vocals connecting to the song's vulnerability. Corritore's harmonica here is much less bluesy, serving more as a string section filtered through his harmonica. It's not typical blues licks, and it deviates from Corritore's plan of giving his fans what they want, but it's an interesting experiment.

Corritore is on stronger footing when he goes up against saxophones, though. "Don't Mess With The Messer," another Dixon tune, featuring singer Diunna Greenleaf, is Corritore versus the horns. The song takes on a 50s rock and roll bounce,with sax courtesy of Doug James. With James ably holding down the bottom end, Corritore goes for a higher tone, much like Stevie Wonder. It's funky and unexpected, showing Corritore still has moves to spare.

I've come to look at Corritore's annual albums like magazine subscriptions. You know what you're getting and it's what you want. Part of the reason you want it is because while Corritore builds his albums in the same way, he always has a new take on the blues. Corritore constantly has something new to say, even within familiar constraints.