Wednesday, June 27, 2012

James Cotton Always Was Deep In The Blues

James Cotton’s new Verve release, Deep in the Blues, has the legendary harmonica player and blues singer accompanied by Joe Louis Walker and jazz bassist Charlie Haden. Also, longtime Cotton collaborator, pianist Dave Maxwell is present on three of the 14 tracks.

The album is an acoustic “unplugged” session, and a total delight. Cotton has had health problems in recent years, and the most evident toll has been on his voice which has come across as a ghost of its former husky self, but little effect is evident in his still splendid harp playing. Not straining against a full electric band backing, Cotton’s vocals sound comfortable in the setting. The songs are mostly blues standards, including Sonny Boy Williamson’s Dealin’ With the Devil; Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Play With Your Poodle; Percy Mayfield’s Strange Things Happenin’ and Big Maceo’s Worried Life Blues (two splendid duets with pianist Maxwell); and Muddy Water’s Sad Letter.

Both Walker and Haden each have a solo instrumental, with Walker’s spotlighting his considerable skills using a slide. Walker forcefully sings on Muddy’s Two Trains Runnin’ with Cotton’s harp providing the crying harp commentary. Blues in My Sleep, a fine moody harmonica instrumental is the only selection where all four play together.

There’s no new musical ground here, but rather musicians, friends and peers that have come to play some blues together. It’s a very congenial, low-key effort that will delight fans of Cotton and many others.

This review originally appeared in the November 1996 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 216). I likely received a review copy from the record label. Here is Cotton with Eric Clapton unplugged.

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