By Martine Ehrenclou
All I can say is, “Wow.” Snake Pit, the new album by Harvey Mandel, has some of the grittiest, most spirited guitar tracks I’ve heard.
Spotify nudged me toward Mandel’s new album after listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan. I flicked to the title track, “Snake Pit,” and thought for sure I’d uncovered a kick ass guitarist who’d fallen through the cracks or whose record label hadn’t paid much attention to the marketing.
If you’re reading this and know who Harvey Mandel is, you’re probably laughing right about now because Harvey Mandel, as I later discovered, is a master guitarist from Canned Heat and John Mayall. Mandel also played alongside Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, The Rolling Stones, Steve Miller and others.
Snake Pit is Harvey Mandel’s first widely distributed album in 20 years and is his 15th studio album.
This guy is good. Really good. Snake Pit, released November 18, 2016 on Tompkins Square Records, is a compilation of 8 songs, most new and written by Mandel. Even though the album is classified as blues-rock, there’s some Hendrix-like songs on the album such as “Space Monkeys.” The solos on this song made me feel like I was blasting off into the stratosphere.
This is the kind of album to be listened to while lying on the floor with top quality headphones strapped to your ears. It’s that good, that innovative.
Snake Pit isn’t for everybody. It’s an all-instrumental guitar album with spare production, something that appealed to me in light of the over- produced contemporary R&B/pop music I’d recently reviewed. The info from the album stated, “Recorded live in the studio with minimal overdubs.” And the sound is raw, like beautiful stone without finish or gloss on the surface.
Snake Pit was recorded in two days at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA. This album was created without the band members ever having met. They shared song ideas by iPhone. The band consisted of Harvey Mandel on guitar, Ben Boye on keys, Anton Hatwich on bass, Ryan Jewell on drums, Brian J. Sulpizio on rhythm guitar, and Jose Najera on conga.
“Baby Batter,” the fourth track, is a bluesy/jazz number with a nice groove and a taste of Taj Mahal thrown in. The guitar solo on “Buckaroo,” the 6th track, is a roller coaster ride without a seat belt.
The fifth track, “Jack Hammer,” is for all you Classic Rock junkies. Put aside Dark Side of the Moon for a minute and listen to this song. It has hints of Robin Trower, maybe even Jeff Beck. Mandel’s guitar tone is crisp and tight, but somehow unleashed.
Truly, this musician inspired me to grab my Strat and play.
After researching Harvey Mandel, I landed on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheSnakeRedentor/ and discovered some sad news about him. He’s fighting cancer and has had 32 surgeries in the last three years. There’s an appeal from his sister to post good wishes to him on his page.
Harvey Mandel isn’t called “The Snake” for nothing. His licks and solos are like none I’ve heard. They wind in and out, slip and slide, and grab the guitar with a tight fist only to release it again and snap with a bite. Rock on.
Harvey Mandel, Snake Pit is available on: