Friday, April 15, 2011

McCracklin's Well Seasoned Taste of the Blues

Jimmy McCracklin’s career still goes strong almost five decades after his first recordings. His second Bullseye Blues album joins him with Johnny Otis, Lowell Fulson, Smokey Wilson, Barbara Lynn, saxophonist Bobby Forte and the late Larry Davis for what is billed a West Coast Blues Reunion. McCracklin certainly has grown from the early recordings that showed a strong influence of Walter Davis’ bittersweet blues. By the mid-fifties, his Blues Blasters with the late Lafayette ‘Thing’ Thomas, were blasting out shuffles and minor key blues with rocking boogie piano, Thomas’ cutting, twisting guitar lines and honking saxes ripping through shuffles and mid-tempo blues.

A Taste of Blues (Blueseye Blues) finds him in a funky mood reminiscent of his later Minit and Stax recordings as he performs some new songs, and new versions of older songs like My Answer or Yesterday is Gone. McCracklin’s best songs reflect Walter Davis’ influence is his dealing with adult human relationships, while his vocals are delivered with a low key that suggests a certain hesitancy and vulnerability.

While Lowell Fulson, Barbara Lynn and Smokey Wilson each contribute guitar, McCracklin’s own guitarist Pee Wee Thomas is the most effective, adding tasteful, scratchy solos that complement McCracklin’s reflective lyrics and tempos. In contrast, Smokey Wilson’s overstated, buzzsaw solos don’t work and suggest his limitations as a guitarist. Former B.B. King saxophonist Bobby Forte adds several fine tenor saxophone solos including a really fine, moody break on My Answer. The duet with Lynn (whose guitar solo is nicely constructed), Yesterday Is Gone, is nice rendering of the lyrics dealing with the two recognizing the break down in their relationship and a hope for reconciliation, as they jointly sing “Let’s talk about our future and let bygones be gone…” The slightly jerky rhythms are those that would be echoed by Magic Sam and other sixties admirers of McCracklin.

There is little on this of the hard rocking boogies McCracklin recorded of Peacock, Irma and various West Coast labels. The opening number Boogie On Down, relates not to hot boogie woogie numbers, but the let’s get down and boogie funk dancing. It may be the nature of McCracklin’s songs, vocal approach, or the lazy tempo, but his music has aged very well. With Ron Levy adding organ, and the use of a vocal chorus on several songs, one cannot accuse Bullseye of underproducing this, although there are places like Put Up Or Shut Up, where a lighter touch and a shorter performance would have made for a more focused blues.
Jimmy McCracklin at 2008 Pocono Blues Festival
Photo © Ron Weinstock

Another solid recording from McCracklin, although when his best recordings from the forties, fifties and sixties get reissued on cd, this may be viewed as a minor recording.

I have made a few minor changes to the review that originally appeared in the October 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 195), and I believe is still in print. I likely received a review copy from Rounder Records. I previously reviewed on this blog an English Ace reissue of classic McCracklin recordings from the Modern label, Blues Blastin’

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