Doug Cox & Sam Hurrie,
Hungry Ghosts
(NorthernBlues, 2005)

Doug Cox and Sam Hurrie have a lot of musical history between them. Hurrie started his career as part of a late 1960s rock band called the Churls. Cox has toured the world with his Dobro guitar playing festivals, clubs and concert halls.

That sense of history permeates Hungry Ghosts, which features songs by Son House ("Grinning in Your Face") and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards ("No Expectations"), plus traditional tunes ("Kansas City") and original material.

Hungry Ghosts isn't an album that flaunts its virtuosity. The guitar solos aren't particularly flashy; they don't distract from the songs themselves. And yet the playing is always dynamic, always spot on, always in sync with the mood of the composition, whether it's a lighthearted ditty, a traditional blues number or something more exotic like the album's closing track, "Red Haired Raga."

There's no debating the quality of the musicianship on this release. Both Cox and Hurrie are tremendously skilled players. If there's a weakness here it's with the vocals, which are at times rather thin. As well, the two voices are really too similar to pull off the sort of call and response delivery they've employed on "Kansas City." The use of a number of female singers to fill out the vocal portions of songs such as "Carry Me Away" and "Beware of the Man" does a lot to bolster those tracks.

One rather strange inclusion is "Nap Time for Sam," which, despite some not very kid-oriented lyrics, feels as though it's been lifted from an album for preschoolers. The song, placed smack-dab in the middle of the disc, really breaks the flow of the album. It's followed by another quirky track titled "Fear," a spoken word, social-protest piece with a silly Chicken Little-esque introduction. Thankfully the song improves immensely once it moves past its "the sky is falling" front end.

Following "Fear" we're eased back in to the blues/folk groove for the remaining five tracks, including the terrific original composition "Bad News." "Bad News" has a timeless quality to both the writing and performance. One can easily envision the song being performed in a Depression-era recording session by one of the early blues greats.

As author (and old folkie) Spider Robinson says in the Hungry Ghosts liner notes, this is an album of "incredibly tasty, uncommonly filling music."

by Gregg Thurlbeck
14 October 2006

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