Monday, April 16, 2007

Chicago's Blues Queen Goes Old School

Its been several years since Koko Taylor has had a new album. This is remedied by the new Alligator release, The Old School. As the title suggests, the recording is directed to hard-hitting, old-school Chicago blues and includes five interpretations (most definitely not copies) of older songs along with some originals that Chicago’s Blues Queen handles in her own hold-nothing back style. One track is by The Blues Machine, and the other eleven tracks have a studio band led by Criss Johnson and drummer Willie ‘The Touch’ Sutton and guest appearances from Bob Margolin, Billy Branch an Kaz Kazanoff. Most of the new tunes are from Koko and Gonna Buy Me a Mule is a striking song as she tells her man she’s gonna take the place of him and the jaunty warning You Better Watch Your Step, with Billy Branch (excellent throughout) playing some Jimmy Reed inspired harp. Bob Margolin adds slide guitar to Memphis Minnie’s Black Rat, and Lefty Dizz’s Bad Avenue. The arrangements of both tunes are a bit cluttered and the performances come off as too hectic. Criss Johnson who did the arrangements on this album, would have done well to have listened to Koko’s first Alligator album, I Got What It Takes, and have allowed more spaces in the backing, and not have come across overbearing like so much recent Chicago styled blues of the past few decades. I have no fault with Koko’s performances as she sings really well here sounding so at home with the material. Its also nicely programmed with very nice covers of a couple songs associated with Muddy Waters, Don’t Go No Further, and Young Fashioned Ways. Just wish the attempt at being ‘old school’ by the band had a bit more of a lighter, swinging groove than they play with here. If I was giving this stars, 4 1/2 to Koko and 3 for the backing, or overall 4 stars.

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