As a solo country blues guitarist from the mid-'70s through the early '90s, Paul Rishell always hated those performers who faked it with feelings. When he met harmonica ace Annie Raines he knew he'd found someone who shared the sentiment.
"She had innate taste," Rishell says. "I'm not much of a show-biz guy. I don't like contrivances. . We only do what seems right."
Playing the music with integrity but without a slavish reverence, the harmonica-guitar duo has done much that is right since Rishell and Raines paired in 1993. In addition to tours in the states and abroad, Paul and Annie's two CDs have received nine W.C. Handy Award nominations. Their most recent release, "Moving to the Country," was picked by Handy voters as the best acoustic blues release of 2000.
But if they are perfect musical foils, each has a deep love of the blues that is individually nurtured. Raines, 32, found the harmonica as a restless 17-year-old growing up near Boston. She had been playing for six months when a friend turned her on to the electric blues of Muddy Waters and Little Walter.
"It was like taking a bath in red beans and rice," she recalls.
Raines tried college but "the blues really called me back to Boston." Dropping out of school, she entered a thriving Cambridge blues scene. Raines rapidly developed a sense of tone, precision and rhythmic drive as she learned from others while playing in regional bands. She acknowledges there were not many other young female harmonica players on the scene, but she says she received help rather than scorn from her fellow musicians.
"(They saw) I was serious about it," she says. "Musicians do look out for each other."
Several years Raines' senior, Rishell, 51, had worked the Boston music scene since 1975, scratching out a living with his blues guitar. Blues as a form had first entered his life when he heard recordings of Son House. Rishell quickly understood that blues was the foundation of the jazz and rock he was already playing, and he attacked his discovery with intensity. He soon developed the fingerpicking and piercing slide style of the rural blues. This led to a steady solo career in the Northeast that continued through the 1980s. Rishell cut his first nationally distributed recording in 1991, and he met and played with Raines when they were both working the Boston area during that time. When he cut a second CD in 1993, Raines was called in on a few tunes. The pairing stuck and now both recognize they have a magic that neither could conjure as a solo force.
Rishell and Raines play with tradition in mind, but inside their sound is a modern heart pure in intent.
"All I want to do is represent the music," Rishell says. "I don't want to get in the way of the music."
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.