Live at the Zelt Musik Festival

Harmonious Wail

Acoustic Guitar, May 1998

When the late Stephane Grappelli heard Harmonious Wail’s swing-charged set at Germany’s annual Zelt Musik Festival, he remarked enthusiastically, "They are playing my music!" High praise from the greatest swing violinist ever, but this Madison, Wisconsin-based band deserves the accolade. Driven by the Jethro Burns-inspired mandolin of Sims Delaney-Potthoff, sultry vocal of his wife, Maggie, and Doug Brown’s swinging guitar, the band covers everything from swing standards like "Tico Tico" and Stuff Smith’s "It Ain’t Right" to classics like "Exactly Like You," "Straighten Up and Fly Right," and "How High the Moon" with timeless grace. (Bufflehead, PO Box 14033, Madison, WI 53714-0033)

Acoustic Musician, August 1997

Imagine Manhattan Transfer with a mandolin. With a guitar and stand-up bass, too, but it’s the mandolin that stands out behind the multiple vocal harmonies. Got the picture? Good, that’s Harmonious Wail, acoustic swing featuring a string of standards that even non-swingers will recognize. They are very good. Folks not into swing may find there’s enough mandolin to make the music accessible. The guitars’ breaks are tasty, too, there just aren’t many of them. Swing enthusiasts will be happy simply to find another band that can handle the job.

Dirty Linen

Because of the interactive nature of their music, Madison acoustic swing quartet Harmonious Wail are best heard live, as they are captured on their second CD. Recorded in Freiberg, Germany, in 1995, the disc opens with a dynamic vocal quartet version of Joel Mabus’ "Swing That Thing." The sultry vocals of Maggie Delaney-Potthoff make the late-night ambiance of "Eat At Joe’s." "Straighten Up and Fly Right" features some delectable interplay between mandolinist Sims Delaney-Potthoff and guitarist Doug Brown, along with some rousing group vocals on the choruses. "How High the Moon" features a marvelous walking bass line from Tim Kelly and again allows the other fretmeisters ample solo space. The disc’s showpiece is "Tico Tico," which proceeds at a frighteningly torrid pace. If hot picking and cool vocals are your cup of tea, Live at the Zelt Musik Festival offers plenty of both. Technogeeks can access concert footage and interviews on their CD-ROM drives with this enhanced disc.

In the Walnut Valley Festival list of artists: