|Big Harp George doesn’t know if you’ve been naughty or nice – but he’s got a special Christmas gift ready for you either way. It’s an album of unconventional Christmas music that reflects his unconventional songwriting mind. It’s music that’s lyrically sharp and clever, with lots of Big (chromatic) Harp, but still very Christmassy – in an irreverent Big Harp George kind of way. It makes you think that if Mad Magazine ever released a Christmas album, this would be it.
Big Harp George (George Bisharat) is a San Francisco Bay Area blues singer, songwriter, and chromatic harmonica wizard. The chromatic has a jazzy, sophisticated voice, and combined with Bisharat’s smart songwriting, makes for a distinctive musical package. It was music that captured Bisharat’s imagination in his early teens, but he set that aside for a successful career as a criminal defense lawyer, an award-winning professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law, and expert commentator on law and politics in the Middle East.
But the music was hard to resist, and about 12 years ago, Bisharat tuned in again. He recorded his first album, “Chromaticism,” in 2014, which earned him “Best New Artist” award nominations from the Blues Foundation and Blues Blast Magazine, as well as high praise from music critics for his blues-laced chromatic style. Four more successful albums followed, with his most recent being Cut My Spirit Loose.
But now it’s time for Christmas giving. Bisharat has been writing and recording holiday songs occasionally since 2018, when he cut “Where’ll I Be for Christmas?” with the late “Little Charlie” Baty on guitar. He’s added a few more here and there to round out this holiday album, Big Harp George Does Christmas, of what he calls “decidedly nonstandard tunes.”
The hard rocking “nonstandard” opener is “Bad Santa,” in which naughty triumphs over nice, and this salacious Santa’s gifts are best left undelivered: “Bad Santa, you ain’t welcome in my home….” “Carioca Christmas” has a Latin vibe, with a strong chromatic solo. “Reindeer On Strike” jingles in with “this reindeer standin’ up for what’s right…” and notes “little scab elves” on its way to listing reindeer grievances that speak impishly of their plight. “War on Christmas!” attacks that politically delicate topic armed with explosively sarcastic ammunition.
“Snow Shuffle” is bluesy instrumental that could easily drift into a Christmas dance tune. “Coquito Girl” is another Latinesque number flavored with a “rum and coconut” yuletide libation. “Where I’ll Be For Christmas?” features Baty with a spirited guitar solo on a gently swinging, bluesy track around the lament that “my family’s turned its back on me, and I don’t have no place to go….” “Fireside Waltz” is exactly that, an instrumental perfect for an old-fashioned dance on any occasion. “Thee Three Kings” wisely forgoes that traditional theme and focuses instead on Freddie, Albert and B.B. as the three blues kings in a tribute to those masters, with guitar lines that evoke their eternal presence. In a spoken final verse, George takes a serious minute to wish everyone a “most joyous holiday season.”
“That Grinch is Me” offers a slow and easy blues with a contrarian lyrical counterpoint: “You see pretty presents wrapped in ribbons and bows, I see recycling and the landfill where it goes….” The closer, “It’s New Year’s Eve,” is a swinging finale with a heady harp solo that speaks optimistically of what might be coming next, even though “the world is in an uproar.”
Big Harp George has indeed unwrapped a collection of “decidedly nonstandard” songs for this delightful holiday album. The tunes are filled with sharp-edged lyrical delights and decorated with solid musical trimmings. And George’s harp works a special chromatic Christmas magic.
His goal, Bisharat says, “was to make good music that people would be tempted to listen to all year round.” Wouldn’t that make every day Christmas?
Jim White (a former music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette & now writes the Blues Roadhouse)
Big Harp George/George Bisharat is a San Francisco Bay Area blues singer, songwriter, and chromatic harmonica player. The chromatic, compared to the 10-hole diatonic more common to blues, has a distinctive voice, giving Big Harp George a jazzy and sophisticated sound.
Big Harp George’s 2014 debut release Chromaticism earned “Best New Artist” award nominations from the Blues Foundation and Blues Blast Magazine, as well as high praise from music critics. Wash My Horse in Champagne (2016) and Uptown Cool (2018) followed, earning extensive airplay and even wider critical acclaim.
George’s 2020 release, Living in the City, was nominated in 2021 for Best Traditional Blues CD, while George was nominated for Best Male Artist and the band for Best Traditional Blues Band.
George’s 2023 release, Cut My Spirit Loose, recorded with his core set of blues all-stars, showcased his growing musical ambition. The songs drew on a wide range of blues and jazz styles while addressing contemporary life through stunning lyrics and irreverent wit. On the strength of this album, George has been nominated by Blues Blast Magazine as Harmonica Player of the Year.
George now brings us a unique set of Christmas originals, recorded over a period of years, including one, from 2018, featuring Little Charlie Baty (RIP) on guitar. The tunes, as usual, cover a range of topics and moods, some humorous, others cheery or reflective in mood.
Before prioritizing music, George was a criminal defense attorney, an award-winning professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law, and expert commentator on law and politics in the Middle East. There’s a great interview about George in Blues Blast – https://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/featured-interview-big-harp-george/.
Where’ll I Be For Christmas official video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JoLaheLe7s
PURCHASE & STREAMING LINKS
iTunes : https://music.apple.com/us/album/big-harp-george-does-christmas/1705072788
Spotify: https://spoti.fi/3PF1DlD (artist)
Artist and cover art: https://blindraccoon.com/clients/big-harp-george/