Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wolfman Washington's Blues Masterpiece

Wolfman Washington is one of my favorite artists and when he was signed to Point Blank there was hope his career would reach new heights. Unfortunately there was a management issue and the album, Blue Moon Risin, was never issued in the US. I am not sure if it still can be obtained anymore byt the Louisiana Music Factory had copies a few years ago. IMHO, it was the best blues album of the 1990s. I believe it was also the last time the J.B. Horns recorded together. Here is my review as it appeared in Jazz & Blues Report back in July/August 1995.

After years working with Johnny Adams and making some recordings for small New Orleans labels, Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington emerged as an important blues voice in his own right with several albums for Rounder, and then one for PointBlank that evidenced his emergence as one of the true major voices in contemporary blues. Now with Blue Moon Risin’ (4 Tunes Records), currently only available as an import, he has produced an absolutely stunning album that seamlessly integrates soul and funk elements into Washington’s blues gumbo. Washington’s band, the Roadmasters (not to be confused with Ronnie Earl’s band of the same name), has a rhythm section of Jack Cruz on bass, Wilbert Arnold on drums and Brian Mitchel on keyboards that is as good as they get. While the regular Roadmasters horns are only present on two tracks, ten of the twelve tracks have the J.B. Horns (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis). Wolfman’s mix of funk and blues is perfect for the J.B. Horns, whose crisp playing matches up with the hard funk groove of the Roadmasters on the strutting remake of Bill Withers’ Using Me and showcase Wolfman’s solo on Fever. Still the disc’s highest points are the originals by Wolfman and Jack Cruz, such as the opening Stop and Think (to which keyboard player Mitchel also contributed), the title track (with its opening line “There’s a blue moon risin’, in my heart & in my soul, passion and pain lying on everything I known”), and Can’t Stop Lovin’ You, a terrific driving updating on Otis Redding’s Can’t Cut You Loose. Cadillac Woman may be the closest thing to a straight blues shuffle, but it has an interesting turn in the melody. And while his guitar is showcased, mixing in bits of George Benson and Kenny Burrell to the gulf coast blues guitar stew, his fervid singing is just as central to these performances. He’ll employ a strangulated falsetto for emphasis, or stretch out a syllable as necessary before cutting loose with a concise guitar solo as the horns riff in support. I’ve listened to this repeatedly since buying it at the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans. Wolfman has made fine records before, but this is one of the best new albums in a very long time.

1 comment:

gclarke said...

I bought this CD in 98 at I agree that it's one of his best, along with Wolf At The Door. I hear his latest one is good too.

I just found this site and I'm backing through it a month at a time. Great stuff.