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Veteran bluesmen showcase polished skills on 'Rough Cut,' which includes originals and covers

COURTESY: JESSICA KEAVENY - Guitarist Alan Hager (left) says singer/harmonica player Curtis Salgado is 'a wonderful person to make music with.' They've been jamming together for the past 14 years.Alan Hager, Portland native and guitarist extraordinaire, has been having the most fun in his career lately, teaming up with bluesman Curtis Salgado.

Now the two have a new album, "Rough Cut," and they'll host a CD release party with shows at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N. Mississippi Ave. Tickets are $25, $30 day of show, and available at www.mississippistudios.com.

For Hager, 62, it's a highlight of a career that goes back to his Adams High School days.

"I've done some solo projects, but as far as I'm concerned playing with Curtis is the most fun I've ever had," says Hager, who has played with Salgado since 2003, officially part of his band and as a duo for nearly three years.

"Something happens when we play together. It sounds cornball, but it is (chemistry) and you can hear it on the album. That's why we wanted to do it as live as we could."

The 13-song record was produced by Salgado and Hager, and it features a mix of newly written originals and carefully chosen blues covers.

"We did it for the love of music," Salgado says. "This is where our hearts are. These are deep songs that we love to play."

The original "I Will Not Surrender" was recorded in one live, unrehearsed take. The anthem "I Want My Dog to Live Longer (The Greatest Wish)" already has proven popular with fans. And Salgado's souful singing and Hager's elegant slide guitar are evident on Elmore James' "You Got To Move" and Muddy Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied."

It was recorded at Falcon Recording Studios in Portland, mixed in Los Angeles with Johnny Lee Schell, and released by Alligator Records, Salgado's label.

"This is hugely important for me; it's giving me more international and national exposure than I've ever had," Hager says. "Beyond that, musically, it's a really strong statement on what the two of us are about and, like Curtis says, what we believe in."

Salgado has high praise for Hager: "He's the best player in the business, unlike anybody else. That's one reason I made this record was to show him off."

Hager attended both the Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory after his Adams High days; he graduated from the conservatory in 1979. He played classical guitar for nine years, before going the jazz and blues route. Hager still teaches. After living in Boston for many years, he returned to Portland in 1988 and met Salgado in '89.

Salgado, 64, has put out 10 solo albums, including the award-winning "Soul Shot" and "The Beautiful Lowdown" with Alligator. He has overcome health issues, including liver cancer in 2006 and lung cancer in 2008 and 2012 and, then, a heart attack in March 2017 that led to quadruple bypass surgery.

He returned to the stage in summer 2017.

"I've known him a long time, and he's always been a really positive guy," Hager says. "We talk about these (health issues), and I told him, 'You could have croaked on several occasions.' ... He's not supposed to be gone. He's on some sort of mission. And that's how I see music now. He's a wonderful person to make music with."

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