Friday, May 13, 2011

Chicago Blues A Living History: The Revolution Continues

It was a couple years ago that Raisin’ Music issued the first double CD, Chicago Blues: A Living History, a superb CD that revived some classic and lesser known Chicago blues by the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Memphis Slim, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Earl Hooker and Magic Sam. Well, now comes a sequel, Chicago Blues A Living History: The (R)evolution Continues. The Two CDs contain 23 selections and a bit over 80 minutes.

Like the prior release, the solid backing band, The Living History Band, returns with guitarist Billy Flynn, Pianist Johnny Iguana, bassist Felton Crews and drummer Kenny Smith. With the support by this band, the spotlight is focused on Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Lurrie Bell, Billy Branch and Carlos Johnson with featured guest appearances by Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, James Cotton, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Zora Young and Mike Avery. The CD opens with three performances by Billy Boy Arnold of artists associated with the forties Chicago scene, Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red and Sonny Boy Williamson before we move on to the post-war era with more emphasis on the post mid-fifties scene and extending to the nineties.

Arnold is really good, with the rendition of Tampa Red’s I’ll Be Up Again Someday, being especially fine. With just bass and drums, John Primer does a solid Muddy Waters copy on Canary Bird before taking a lighter tack on the Jimmy Rogers shuffle, Chicago Bound. Floyd Jones was one of the artists whose recordings were skipped on the earlier disc, but Lurrie Bell does a strong rendition of Stockyard Blues, with Matthew Skoller adding harmonica (the late Snooky Pryor played on the original). Billy Branch and James Cotton both play harmonica on a rendition of the Jackie Brenston hit, Rocket 88, that Cotton recorded for Vanguard. Branch takes the vocal here as he does on a medley of Little Walter and Bo Diddley songs, while Primer handles the vocal on Chuck Berry’s Reelin’ and Rockin’, on which Billy Flynn emulates Berry’s guitar style.

The second disc opens with Buddy Guy doing a straight remake of his classic Chess recording T he First Time I Met the Blues, which is followed by John Primer being reunited with Magic Slim for a chugging rendition of Chuck Willis’ Keep a Drivin’. Magic Sam’s cousin Michael Avery was a revelation on the initial release and continues to impress as he reprises Easy Baby. Primer handles Howlin’ Wolf’s Howlin’ For My Baby, while Billy Boy Arnold handles the vocal on Robert Lockwood, Jr.’s My Daily Wish, that Lockwood waxed originally with Otis Spann in 1960. Pianist Iguana is excellent here as is Flynn who evokes Lockwood’s jazzy style on this.

Yonder’s Wall is based on the recording of it by Junior Wells, with Billy Branch honoring one of his mentors and evoking Wells’ harp style, while Zora Young takes the vocal on the late Sunnyland Slim’s Be Careful How You Vote. Its nice that Fenton robinson is remembered by Carlos Johnson who provides a fresh arrangement of Somebody Loan Me a Dime. Johnson also does his take on the title track of Otis Rush’s Grammy Award winning album Ain’t Enough Comin’ In. A couple of sons pay respects to their dads with Lurrie doing his own Got To Leave Chi-Town, as a tribute to Carey Bell (with Billy Branch playing some tough harp here) while Ronnie Baker Brooks salutes his father Lonnie Brooks on the mix of Chicago blues, funk and bayou boogie, Don’t Take Advantage of Me. Ronnie also does his plea “Make These Blues Survive, as he worries about the music’s future. The recording concludes with a rendition of Brownie McGhee’s lively shuffle, The Blues Had a Baby, with vocals by Bell, Arnold, Branch and Primer.

This is another satisfying salute to the Chicago Blues tradition that covers a wide spectrum of performers, that is package in a double CD digipack and contains a booklet with producer Larry Skoller’s notes, commentary on the selections and an illustrated Chicago Blues History timeline which is provides an overview of the artists whose recordings are mined and the performers heard on this. Fans of the prior release will have similar feelings about this sequel. And there is so much of the Chicago Blues History that they have yet to explore that hopefully might merit a third release in this series. Recommended. 

This review originally appeared in the May 1-June 15
Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 335) which can be downloaded at My review copy was supplied by a publicist for this release.

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