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JUNIOR WELLS

SOUTHSIDE BLUES JAM - EXPANDED EDITION

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Delmark (DE628)

Stop Breaking Down, I Could Have Had Religion, Just Make Love To Me, Lend Me Your Love, Long Distance Call, Blues For Mayor Daley, In My Younger Days, Trouble Don’t Last, It’s Too Late Brother, Warmin’ Up, Love My Baby, I Could Have Had Religions (alternate take), Rock Me, Lexington Movies, Got To Play The Blues

An enormously welcome re-issue of an under-appreciated gem of a Chicago blues album from the (very) late 1960s.

Newly re-mastered and expanded to include additional tracks from the sessions left off the original album, this has Junior and some of the very best Chicago blues musicians of the time on a relaxed and reflective set of blues standards and contemporary originals. As you would expect, his best friend and regular musical associate, Buddy Guy, features on tasteful guitar, alongside other titans such as Louis Meyers (also guitar), Otis Spann (piano), Fred Below (drums) and Earnest Johnson (bass).

This album was effectively a follow up to the Hoodoo Man Blues album, a much tighter and more immediate set of songs than we have here. The earlier album helped secured Junior’s status as the blues singer and harp player most likely to become the next blues superstar. The reason that this did not fully transpire is, in part, explainable by the fact that, between the release of the two albums, much had changed in the blues world. A number of big name blues artists had started to pass away (most traumatically Magic Sam, taken by a heart attack at only 32 years of age) or seemed increasingly fragile (for example, Muddy Waters had been laid low by a serious road accident, Howlin’ Wolf was ill in hospital and Otis Spann was sick enough at the time to not live long beyond these sessions). With opinion in some quarters also being that blues was being replaced by the more contemporary sounds of psychedelic rock (capturing white audiences) and soul music (taking the attention of black audiences), it is hardly surprising that notable blues releases of the period were becoming prone to introspection and reflection.

Such concerns of the period are explicitly and implicitly all over this album. Heartfelt concerns for the health of, and tributes to, Muddy and Wolf (among others) are touching and humourous (Junior’s attempted impersonation of Howlin’ Wolf is particularly enjoyable, if not as accurate as Sonny Boy Williamson had previously achieved on Like Wolf). Elsewhere Junior takes time to reflect on the future prospects for the blues, the black community, civil rights matters and more personal matters such as the future lives of his sons.

But if this sounds all a little sombre, fear not. At the album’s core always is a band of top notch Chicago bluesmen doing what they do best. Junior’s vocals are composed and in great shape and his harp blowing is, as always, an inventive delight. Buddy Guy explodes into life  as only he can from time to time but is mostly the model of restraint and taste. He does however take some of the limelight on the excellent Trouble Don’t Last, where his singing and guitar playing and Otis Spann’s sparkling skills on the ivories re-visits their excellent work together on Buddy’s own A Man And The Blues album for Vanguard.

All in all, an excellent album made even more so by the deluxe digi-pack treatment Delmark has now given it. The bonus tracks provide a new and broader context to enjoy the sessions, enhanced further by a new 16 page booklet of notes and never-before-seen photos. Recommended.

Review Date: January 2015

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