Thursday, November 15, 2012

Willie Buck Is a Rockin Cell Phone Man

There are few singers in Chicago with roots in the classic blues style heard in the Windy City in the 1950s. Vocalist Willie Buck is one and with The Rockin’ Johnny Band has a new album on Delmark, Cell Phone Man. Buck’s sound is heavily shaped by that of Muddy Waters classic fifties band and he is ably supported by the Rockin’ Johnny Band with Johnny’s guitar, the guitar of Rick Kreher, the bass of John Sefner and the drums of Steve Bass. They are augmented by Barrelhouse Chuck on piano and the harmonicas of Martin Lang and Bharath Rjakumar. 

In Scott Dirks liner notes, he observes Muddy Waters influence but also observes Buck has a style that is really more typical of the Chicago style of the fifties. Still when one has a recording that includes a number of songs associated with Waters like Two Trains Running (done acoustically), Going Down Main StreetStreamline Woman, Memphis Minnie’s What’s the Matter With the Mill (Can’t Get No Grinding), My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble, and Blow Wind Blow, the comparison is unavoidable. Willie certainly acquits himself in these performances. 

Buck’s strong rendition of Muddy’s Strange Woman, employs the Help Me bass line and in addition to some outstanding guitar (suggestive of Jimmy Dawkins with Carey Bell), displays the considerable harmonica skills of Bharath Rjakumar’s harmonica playing. While credited to Buck, Two Women Talking, sounds like the song Big Moose John Walker recorded as Baby Talk four decades ago for Bluesway. It is a solid performance which fortunately lacks the amplified wah-wah saxophone which did detract from Big Moose’s earlier recording. The title track is a strong Muddy styled original as he asks his woman to let Willie be her cell phone man, she won’t have to worry about a thing with biting guitar and Bharath acoustic harp standing out.

In addition to the steady rhythm provided by the Rockin’ Johnny Band (and fine guitar work from Johnny and Kreher), Barrelhouse Chuck is consistently outstanding and the harmonica work of both Martin Lang and Bharath Rjakumar also is top notch. Willie Buck is not Muddy’s equal, but who alive is. His vocals exhibit some of the same expressive qualities and with the strong backing here (which at times suggests some of the outstanding Delmark albums of the late sixties and seventies) has produced a strong recording of real-deal Chicago blues. 

Bill I was provided a review copy from Delmark. Here is a video of Willie with Rockin' Johnny doing some Muddy Waters.

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