Monday, September 27, 2010

James Cotton Remains a Blues Giant

James Cotton’s career as a musician extends some 66 years and while he no longer handles the vocals, he still wails on the harmonica. His latest CD is “Giant” on Alligator features his band of the past several years: Slam Allen on guitar and vocals; Tom Holland on guitar; Noel Neal on bass and Kenny Neal, Jr., on drums in addition to Mr. Superharp himself. Its refreshing that for this latest Cotton recording, they did have Cotton with his band and eschewed the superstar guests. Slam Allen certainly has developed into a solid singer with plenty of personality, and Tom Holland has become one of the most highly regraded traditionally-oriented guitarists around today and little need be added about Noel Neal and Kenny Neal, Jr. This is a great band as the many who have seen them will readily testify.

There are a few originals here in addition to interpretations of classic blues of which “How Blue Can You Get?” “Since I Met You Baby,” and “That’s All Right” are the best known that to these. I know the opening “Buried Alive in the Blues,” by Nick Gravenites has been recorded a lot, but it is relatively new to these ears and it receives rollicking shuffle treatment here with plenty of Cotton’s harp. “Heard You’re Getting Married,” is a slow blues penned by Allen and Cotton with more crying harp. A pair of Muddy Waters tunes follows, with the slow rendition of of “Sad Sad Day” standing out with terrific slide guitar from Tom Holland who evokes Waters’ classic style. Another Allen-Cotton original “Change,” follows with a churning rhythm and a rocking solo from Allen. Allen does a pretty solid job singing “How Blue You Can Get.” The song is handled pretty straight and Noel Neal takes a bass solo with Cotton’s harp adding commentary to the bass solo. A hot instrumental, “In the Quickness,” has a short guitar break from Allen and is followed by the Ivory Joe Hunter ballad “Since I Met You Baby,” which again serves to showcase Cotton’s harp with a serviceable vocal from Allen. Holland plays some lovely guitar behind the vocal on this in addition to Cotton’s strong playing responding to Allen’s vocal. The band rocks on Muddy Waters’ “Going Down Main Street,” which includes some strong guitar before Cotton quotes his classic instrumental “The Creeper,” as he takes the song to its end. Allen follows with a first-rate vocal on “That’s All Right,” that also sports first-rate harp. “Blues For Koko,” a moody instrumental by Cotton is dedicated to the late Koko Taylor, concludes this disc on a high note. Mention should be accorded to Tom Holland’s accompaniment of Cotton’s dazzling, virtuosic harp on this.

Bruce Iglauer notes that Cotton has cut nearly 30 albums in his career. That does not include the many recordings he played on as a sideman. “Giant” simply is a strong addition to Cotton’s rich musical legacy and is also valuable to document the terrific music that Cotton has been playing with his working band.

For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy for this was sent to the writer by Alligator Records.

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