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New Mules Kickin' 

Old talent; new bald-faced blues

click to enlarge Dan Todd, Santi Guarnera, Magic Dave Therault (behind the glass), and Dennis McCarthy
  • Dan Todd, Santi Guarnera, Magic Dave Therault (behind the glass), and Dennis McCarthy

"The Springs has world-class musical talent," says Dave Therault, harmonica master, lead singer and frequent songwriter for Magic Dave and the New Mules.

If no one played in the Springs but Magic Dave, his remark would still ring true. Fortunately for us, he's found three other stellar musicians to join him -- Dan Todd on guitar and occasional harmonica, Santi Guarnera on bass, and Dennis McCarthy on drums.

Blues bands abound in Colorado, but the New Mules are set apart from the rest by their backgrounds, their years of dedication, and their shared sense of purpose when they're playing the blues.

Magic Dave Therault grew up in Hartford, Conn. Todd emerged from the San Fernando Valley through Los Angeles. Santi Guarnera's speech is still flavored by his early years in the Bronx, as McCarthy's is by the tones of Chicago. The four bring together all major regions of the country but one. That's where the music comes in. The musical language they share and converse in comes straight from the Dear Old Southland.

Each one has followed his own path to the waterfall of the blues. Guarnera still works in a doo-wop band. McCarthy's roots and degrees are in jazz. Todd fell in love with the blues at the age of 15, but that hasn't kept him from serious study of Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. And if you hear Therault play chorus upon chorus of "Never on Sunday," you'll recognize that he doesn't just know Theodakris, but also the Harmonica Rascals and John Coltrane.

Which is to say that Dave Therault plays things on the harp that no sane man would attempt, and that when he plays them, they aren't merely attempts. A fine Denver harmonica man, upon hearing Magic Dave for the first time, was heard to mutter, "Anyone wanna buy some Marine Bands?"

That kind of musicianship doesn't bespeak just "talent." It represents many years of loving, maddening, disciplined practice. Together, the New Mules express the mastery that only about 130 years of practice could bring about.

In other words, with this band, technical prowess is not the issue. The band is so technically assured that they can make it about the music.

At the heart of the blues, as of jazz, are group improvisation and the unity of "players" and "listeners." The particular style of blues the New Mules work in was once described by Todd as "B.C. Blues: Before Clapton." He meant by that the apparently simple but infinitely subtle and endlessly fertile blues found in the small groups, such as those headed by Sonny Boy Williamson II and Jazz Gillum from the late '30s to the late '40s. They were assemblages of unsung masters where "everybody's soloing, all the time," as Todd says; where "everybody's feeling each others' note or chord," as Louis Armstrong said; where "new music's being created in the presence of the band and audience," as Therault says.

This inclusiveness applies as well to the lyrics the New Mules choose. While classic Muddy Waters tunes don't go unsung, the band increasingly emphasizes Therault's songwriting, a recent development in his career. "For me," he says, "performing is more about opening the book of my life and that of my friends, and sharing that with the band and the audience."

If you want to hear this heart of the blues beat, and warm yourself at the fire of what America once supposed itself to be about -- and have a hell of a good time doing it -- the New Mules will kick you right into that beautiful pasture of plenty.

  • Old talent; new bald-faced blues

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