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BIG WALTER HORTON

BLUES HARMONICA GIANT-Classic Sides from 1951-1956 (3CD set)

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JSP (JSP2305)

I'm sure everyone would agree that Big Walter should be classed alongside Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson as one of the all time blues harmonica greats. He played with a big fat tone and an unhurried style that allowed him to soar on any tune and when he sat in on other blues musicians sessions he had an uncanny knack of turning an average song into something special.

The first 2 CDs in this set cherry pick his real classics - and what classics they are - beginning with the startling stuff that runs through the rural rant Cotton Patch Hotfoot which has Horton's muted harmonica perfectly gelling with the unknown guitar players' unusual popping licks. Then he progresses through a tough take of In The Mood followed by punchy interpretations of songs borrowed from his rival Little Walter - Off The Wall and Little Walter's Boogie. Next comes the spine-chilling Sun recording, Easy with its warbling harmonica spilling out tons of cascading notes and trills against Jimmy DeBerry's rock steady guitar, heading straight for that dramatic change in the last third of the song when Horton crashes in with a much harder tone. 

Then we find Horton in the studio, cranking out pure virtuoso stuff with Willie Nix, Mose Vinson, Joe Hill Louis and Johnny Shines. There are some marvellous moments in these 29 sides - like Willie Nix's Ridin' In The Moonlight which has Walter's shining solo soaring while Willie Johnson plays tremendous guitar in the background. And you can't fail to be impressed with the sheer driving attack he generates on Joe Hill Louis' Hydromatic Woman. This one's a remake of Rocket 88 and it boogies like billy-o!

Horton is simply brilliant on the 1953 Johnny Shines sides where, together with a bass player, they create some of the most mind-boggling blues music ever made. The two magnificent takes of Evening Shuffle are practise runs for Evening Sun where Horton explodes out of the speakers with run after run of dazzling power and awesome hard rocking licks which inspire Shines to deliver one of his most exuberant performances ever, making this track one of the best two and a half minutes you'll ever spend with the blues. The power keeps on coming with tracks like No Name Blues and Brutal Hearted Woman - two tracks that have Shines supplying menacing vocals while Horton slides in deep with tasty warbling licks that sneak around the lyrics, just waiting for the opportunity to let rip with yet another superb solo. It's masterful stuff from great musicians at the top of their game.

On the third CD JSP wraps up the set with a with a re-issue of their live vinyl album The Deep Blues Harmonica Of Walter Horton which features an unknown band backing him on a couple of hardy blues annuals before Carey Bell steps up on stage to thrash out a good-hearted two harmonica rough and tumble before they get serious with a hard blowing battle of the blues on a rollicking Walking By Myself and a punchy My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble.

Willie Dixon once said that Walter Horton was the best harmonica player he'd ever heard. One listen through this wonderful set and I'm sure you'll agree.

 

Review Date: August 2010

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