Blues in Britain

Simon Prager, with Rob Mason and Masha Vlassova – Shuckin’ Sugar

 I first came across the name of the acoustic guitar player and vocalist Simon Prager during the late sixties when he recorded with the harmonica virtuoso Steve Rye (1946 – 1992), and it has been thirty years since Prager last recorded so I was particularly delighted to see the surprise appearance of this very entertaining fifteen-track album. Prager’s first interest in ragtime, gospel and blues music was inspired by musicians such as Rev. Gary Davis. Sonny Terry. Brownie McGhee and Blind Boy Fuller. That influence is still very strong on this foot tapping set, but he has added very much of his own personality, and as he has always done, has selected his material with integrity and care. He has also chosen two very interesting and talented fellow performers to join him for this session. The New Zealand born vocalist Masha Vlassova is a new name to me but I have heard the harp player Rob Mason previously, particularly performing with guitarist and vocalist Dave Peabody.

One of Prager’s most important early influences was the legendary Rev. Gary Davis and his mentor’s guitar influence can be heard on Luke Jordan’s “I’m Simply Wild About My Good Cocaine” where Prager captures much of Davis’s powerful and complex playing. There is some evocative twelve-string guitar playing on Blind Willie McTell’s classic song “Georgia Rag” and Prager shows how he can really swing on Louis Jordan’s “Saturday Night Fish Fry”, including some dynamic harp from Mason. It is good to hear Prager recording again with a harp player and he works particularly well with Mason allowing him masses of space to show us what he really can do. Mason was a great admirer of Steve Rye and there are moments when that inspiration shines through – these guys are a perfect match!

 I really enjoyed “Bless My Soul”, based on Eddie Jefferson’s version of Charlie Parker’s “Parker’s Mood”, where Prager and Mason work very effectively on this classic jazz masterpiece. Prager’s strong sense of humour comes through on “Me Mother Doesn’t Know I’m On The Stage”, from the music hall performer Billy Bennett, and with Big Bill Broonzy’s “All By Myself” Prager’s beautifully crafted guitar work comes to the fore.

There are four titles with Vlassova and again Prager has chosen a vocalist that works extremely well with his beautifully crafted guitar work, which has a personal distinctive tone. Her singing is commanding and richly toned and suits the choice of material, including songs from Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, and I wish we could have heard more titles from this talented performer. The final title “I’ve Been ‘Buked”, from The Staple Singers, finds all three working powerfully together and ends this highly recommended set on a high note.

This is a very enjoyable set from an experienced musician who knows what he is doing and with distinctive and engaging vocals throughout. I would encourage your local club to book this guy as soon as they can. Rating: 9 – Bob Tilling

Blues Matters!

 SIMON PRAGER Shuckin’ Sugar   

Independent Release

Back in the 1970s if you went out looking for some authentic Blues you would sooner or later have come across Simon Prager and harp player Steve Rye, who made up a trio with the legendary piano-man Bob Hall. 

Prager comes from that solid South London Delta tradition of well-versed Blues musicians which includes Tony (T.S.) McPhee, Dave Kelly, and his late lamented sister, Jo Ann. 

On this album of strong material he’s accompanied by skilled harp player Rob Mason, and the female vocals are down to Masha Vlassova, a New Zealander of Russian descent. 

This is, in effect, folk club acoustic Blues and none the worse for it. Prager plays both 6 and 12-string guitar, plus mandolin with maximum skill. He’s a Reverend Gary Davis acolyte and the wealth of experience he’s had down the decades serves him well. 

The title track is a case in point; well played, crisp, clear vocals. ‘Cakewalk Into Town’ features Mason’s harp to great effect. Ms. Vlassova tackles Alberta Hunter’s ‘Send Me A Man’ with style, as she does with Ma Rainey’s ‘Jelly Bean Blues’. 

There’s a pleasant, laid back feel to an album which is also very British in a comforting way – Prager’s reading of Billy Bennett’s  hilarious music hall classic ‘My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m On The Stage’ is terrific. 

Great playing, balanced material, nicely recorded. Try it – it’s as good as a night out.

Roy Bainton