THOM DUREK / allmusic.com

Who's Calling is the 16th solo album by guitarist Harvey "Snake" Mandel, and his second for Tompkins Square. He is widely considered one of the most innovative guitarists to emerge from Chicago in the 1960s, alongside icons Charlie Musselwhite, Barry Goldberg, Steve Miller, Michael Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, and Corky Siegel. Along with his peers, Mandel learned in the blues clubs of Chicago's West and South sides, watching, then sharing stages with the masters: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Buddy Guy. Since releasing Cristo Redentor, his 1968 debut solo album, Mandel has worked across the musical map, from blues and jazz to spaced-out psychedelia and whomping funk -- and developed the now familiar two-handed tapping technique along the way. 2016's Snake Pit, Mandel's debut for Tompkins Square, appeared as a comeback after a decade away dealing with serious health problems and recovery. Who's Calling arrives as the 77-year-old Mandel faces renewed health challenges. His trio here includes returning drummer and co-producer Ryan Jewell (Ryley Walker, Laraaji) and bassist Andy Hess (Gov't Mule, Black Crowes). The album's eight originals are offered in Mandel's inimitable genre-bleeding style. The production is raw, immediate and dirty, yet intimate.

Opener "Last Walk" commences with a laidback bass-and-drum shuffle; the guitarist launches into trippy, spooky, and ultimately blissed-out psychedelia, utilizing multi-tracks, layered distortion, feedback, and analog delay. "Crazy Town" is a loopy, quirky psych-funk jam, executed with a simple syncopated vamp. Mandel improvises, adding and subtracting effects as he dialogues with the rhythm section and then solos with spiraling intensity. The title cut offers a single, lithe rock vamp. Mandel makes the most of the monotony and accents, underscoring and filling the space with melodic improvisation. "Lucky Sevens" is slightly more complex with added layers of hand percussion and loops as guitarist and bassist engage in canny interplay. "See You Around" is a bumping, dubby jazz-funk conversation, during which Mandel delivers some of his chunkiest chord shapes as riffs, creating an alternate rhythmic palette. A double-time drum kit introduces set highlight "Moon Talk." It's an excursion into biting, blues-tinged, electric jazz-funk, with bubbling rims hot snare and rumbling deep basslines as Mandel plays with unforced kinetic beauty, utilizing sustain, reverb, delay, distortion, and selective multi-tracks. "Robo-Snake" is a propulsive rocker with a single repetitive vamp as the ground for celebratory interplay before an unexpected breakdown in the middle eight ushers the musicians into improvisational terrain. Mandel's solo is a true jaw-dropper for its taste, elegant yet meaty phrasing, and sonic imagination. Closer "Love You Forever" is a swaggering blues, showcasing the guitarist dialoging with himself atop the rhythm section's unshakeable groove. Who's Calling is wonderfully loose in feel. One can hear the band's desire to experiment in each track. Mandel's lyricism, craft, and precision are everywhere, but he takes many chances with timing, texture, and sonics, and clearly seems to be enjoying himself with the jam-like quality of the tunes. This is essential for Mandel fans and guitar freaks.

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