Two new vivid collections of blues from Chess records. The Wolf album is the latest in a long line of recent blues Super Session enclaves (includes Clapton, Winwood, Wyman and Watts) that rates among the most successful of these black-meets-white get-togethers. The Waters two-record set is sort of a BEST OF anthology that culls, from various earlier Waters albums, Muddy’s best performances from 1950 on down to a couple of live cuts from Waters’ legendary 1960 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival. In years to come this record will prove to be the new bluesfan’s “Introduction album” to the genius of this still-touring Chicago blues genius. The added bonus of Pete Welding’s astute essay on Muddy makes this disc doubly indispensable.
Put simply, the Wolf album is his best in years. In addition to the above-cited personnel, Wolf is also assisted by other Chicago-based bluesmen on the order of Hubert Sumlin, on rhythm guitar, and pianist Lafayette Leake, while other English-based session participants include Jeff Carp, Ian Stewart and Klaus Voormann. But, the basic band of Clapton, Winwood, Wyman and Watts playing those old Chess blues licks that they all started their careers with were the exact propulsion that Howlin’ Wolf needed to get in the mood that results in thirteen blues-stellar performances. From the opening cut, “Rockin’ Daddy,” to the closing, marvelous “Wang Wang Doodle” (“Tell Peggy and Caroline Dye/We gonna have a heck-of-a-time/When the fish scent fills the air/There’ll be snuff juice everywhere”) the sound is the vintage gutsiness that shot Wolf to popularity in the late Fifties and early Sixties. No mistake about it, the Wolf is in excellent voice on “nasty” cuts like “Who’s Been Talkin?” and “Little Red Rooster” as well as on the mellow “Sittin’ On Top of the World,” “Highway 49.” He even absorbs some lowdown horn accompaniments on “Built For Comfort” and “I Ain’t Superstitious.” Throughout, the band is perfectly laid-back and cooks the blues behind the stalwart fulcrum of Eric Clapton’s superb lead guitar-work. But, the unadulterated success of this disc is due to the Wolf’s still-brooding, blues-malevolent vocal expertise. Fully as good as Sonny Boy Williamson II’s fabled mid-Sixties work-outs with the Yardbirds or Memphis Slim’s latest Blue Memphis album.
Muddy Waters was another third of the once-potent Chess blues aristocracy (the late Little Walter being the other) and there is no getting around the indomitable, classic bottle-necked sound of his guitar or the impassioned verse of his vocals, as this collection amply illustrates. All his big hits are here from 1948 comes his first chart-topper “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” from 1950 the urgent “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and “Rollin’ Stone,” as well as Waters’ first outings with Little Walter (among them “Louisiana Blues”) and Big Walter Horton (“Long Distance Call”) on into the Fifties with the late Otis Spann on piano for “Hoochie Koochie Man” and “Walkin’ Through the Park.” The Sixties are also excellently represented by “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “I Got My Mojo Working” from his Newport appearance and “The Same Thing” and “You Can’t Love What You Never Had,” from a 1964 session with James Cotton. All in all, a cogent, well-thought-out compilation of the spell-binding best from Waters’ prolific output that, fortunately, steers clear of his late Sixties depressing wah-wahed efforts. A nice companion album to the essential Wolf disc.