Blue Sky Grabbed Muddy Waters just as Chess Records virtually put him out to pasture. For the first time in 30 years, Muddy has new blood backing his recording ventures. He sounds happy, energetic and out for business: in short, Muddy Waters is kicking in another mule's stall.
Waters has written six new tunes for the album, marking the end of a long dry spell, but his standards and one old Willie Dixon tune rock the hardest. "Mannish Boy" (a close relation to "I'm a Man") sounds almost live, with Johnny Winter's piercing guitar and James Cotton's wide-mouthed harp attack. Winter screams in the background as Muddy sings the lyrics with a liberal dose of shouting and carrying on. It's a far cry indeed from the last time he recorded the song — psychedelic and funky — for Chess in the late Sixties.
The album conveys the feeling of reaffirmation throughout. "I Can't Be Satisfied," one of his oldest tunes, is carried largely by Winter, spotlighted on acoustic slide. Though the pale bluesman plays a hair too fast in spots, he's on his best behavior and stays away from excesses of raunch in favor of clean, well-thought out ideas. Willie Smith's drumming is recorded up front, his cymbal socks sounding inscrutably bluesy.
Waters doesn't play his Telecaster much, but with Winter and Bob Margolin (from Waters' road band) in the wings, he takes an improbable slide solo on "Deep Down in Florida." He rambles up to some high notes, hits a clinker and, unperturbed, resumes singing about Florida, where the sun shines "damn near every day."
James Cotton is all over the album, which makes me wonder why Blue Sky doesn't continue re-recording Muddy with as many of his old sidemen as they can find. Bring Buddy Guy in for the next album and I'd guarantee Buddy cuts his best work in years.