GREATEST HITS 1952-1957 (2CD)
If Willie Mabon is remembered at all it is likely to be for his association with I Don't Know, a song that become a standard and found its way into the repertoire of many a blues and rhythm & blues band. While Willie did not write this song (it came via a Cripple Clarence Lofton record dating as far back as 1939), he did make it his own and had a monster hit with it in 1953, topping the Billboard R&B charts and helping fund the continuation of a then-struggling Chess Records. It was also notable for its early adoption of the stop-time song devise that Willie Dixon would soon employ with Hoochie Coochie Man, I'm Ready and more.
While Willie could not sustain his early success, it still seems baffling that there has been such a paucity of his early material available on CD. So Jasmine should be congratulated for compiling his recordings for Chess on this release
Starting inevitably with his biggest hit, the other 24 tracks on this CD present a talented singer and musician who may have felt a little out of time and place in a early 1950s Chicago more attracted to the guitar and harmonica driven blues popularised by Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf Sonny Boy Williamson and the rest. These sides present a bluesman more in tune with the piano and sax blues that Charles Brown had popularised a few years previous, and thankfully they now stand up remarkably well. There are Willie's own songs, some excellent covers, notably Willie Dixon's Seventh Son and Mel London's Poison Ivy and a handful of previously un-issued recordings. What unifies them are Willie's waspish vocal delivery and obvious charm.
By no means a major artist but far too good to be forgotten. A welcome release of material you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
Review Date: January 2014