CHICAGO THE BLUES TODAY! (3 CD BOX)
VANGUARD (3VCD 172)
JUNIOR WELLS CHICAGO BLUES BAND: Help Me, It Hurts Me Too, Messin' With The Kid, Vietcong Blues, All Night Long. JB HUTTO & HIS HAWKS: Going Ahead Please Help Me, Too Much Alcohol, Married Woman Blues, That's The Truth. OTIS SPANN'S SOUTHSIDE PIANO: Marie, Burning Fire, SP Blues, Sometimes I Wonder, Spann's Stomp. JAMES COTTON BLUES QUARTET: Cotton Crop Blues, The Blues Keep Falling, Love Me Or Leave, Rocket 88, West Helena Blues. OTIS RUSH BLUES BAND: Everything's Gonna Turn Out Alright, Mean Old World, I Can't Quit You Baby, Rock, It's My Own Fault. HOMESICK JAMES AND HIS DUSTERS: Dust My Broom, Somebody Been Talkin', Set A Date, So Mean To Me. JOHNNY YOUNG'S SOUTHSIDE BLUES BAND; One More Time, Kid Man, My Black Mare, Stealin' Back, I Got Mine In Time, Tighten Up On It, Mr Bo Weevil, Hey Hey. JOHNNY SHINES BLUES BAND; Dynaflow Blues, Black Spider Blues, Laying Down My Shoes And Clothes, If I Get Lucky. BIG WALTER HORTON'S BLUES HARP (with Memphis Charlie): Rockin' My Boogie.
This 3 CD set has been around since 1999 when it came out as a full repackaging of one of the most influential and ground breaking collections of blues ever heard. If you still own the vinyl albums or the pre-1999 compact discs you'll certainly hear a difference when you play this set because the music was re-engineered using the original analogue tapes for the very best sound quality, restoring the bass that was all but lost on previous releases. Vanguard also included a great 48 page booklet, which, along with Sam Charters existing notes, feature an essay by Ed Ward on the impact of the original LPs and a fascinating reminiscence of the sessions written by Charters especially for this set. Add to that Ann Charters wonderful photos of the artists and their environs and you've got a 3CD anthology oozing with sheer class.
As Charters and Ward state; in 1966 blues seemed to centre around the so-called blues revival when most of the record companies interest mainly revolved around the newly discovered rural blues men. Admittedly Chess and Kent were doing their stuff but the labels with clout were concentrating their effort on the popular "folk" style rather than the hard edged Chicago blues. Thankfully Vanguard thought differently and sent Sam out to the windy city where he recorded some of the cream of the crop.
Junior Wells, with the help of Buddy Guy, delivered a handful of taut, unnerving performances that proved he was at the top of his game right then in 1965. JB Hutto ran riot in the studio, blasting out his own brand of raw, insistent blues powered by awesome slide guitar work and slashed out urgent clanging licks in tribute to his hero Elmore James. Otis Spann ripped up the rule book with his vigorous and virile attack on songs like "Marie" and "Sometimes I Wonder" which features tons of right hand action and beautifully relaxed vocals. Spann also provides the relentless piano work on Jimmy Cotton's five tracks but it's Jimmy himself who dominates with great vocals and challenging harp playing - especially on "Love Me Or Leave". Homesick James wails out some frantic vocals on his Elmore-inspired four song set and Otis Rush really delivers the modern Chicago sound with his creative guitar slinging on songs like "I Can't Quit You Baby" and "It's My Own Fault".
All absolutely faultless performances - just like the ones by Johnny Young who must've wowed Charters when he strapped on his mandolin to let loose on "One More Time" or "Kid Man Blues" which is a strutting testosterone charged piece of work supercharged with Walter Horton's superlative harp. Horton appears again on his own track "Rockin' My Boogie". This one's a chattering little improvisation that is unusual in that it includes Charlie Musselwhite on second harp and drifts into "St Louis Women" from time to time! Johnny Shines comes on next with his emotional vocals and ringing guitar style mixing the Delta with the South Side on such triumphant classics as "Dynaflow" and "If I Get Lucky". His majestic guitar playing is matched with his vital and creative vocals and the interplay he creates with Walter Horton's harmonica.
This album has never been out of print in 40 years and has been a huge influence on many artists from Clapton and Billy Gibbons to Jimi Hendrix and Bonnie Raitt who says in the booklet: "Chicago/The Blues/Today! are some of my favourite recordings. I learned how to play blues piano from Spann's great cuts on this album and the recordings of Junior Wells, Johnny Shines and Otis Rush are some of my favourites ever". Those of you who already own these albums don't need me to tell you how good they are, but the beauty of a reissue like this is that it gives you an opportunity to re-appreciate the value and importance of this terrific music.
Ed Ward's sleeve notes say "The music here is no longer the blues "today" but it is a vital documentation, recorded without thought of commercialism or market strategy, of a cusp in this essential American music. It will also, I bet, draw in new listeners, kick their asses and take names, and leave them astonished and happy". There's nothing I can add to that except at £14.50 plus p&p for the set - how can you resist any longer?
Review Date: November 2008