In 1953, James Cotton entered the Sun Studios in Memphis to make his first recordings. 60 years later, Alligator has just issued Cotton’s latest, Cotton Mouth Man. The title song was a number that Tom Hambridge and Richard Fleming wrote that Cotton liked and he got together with them and they wrote a number of new songs many based around Cotton’s life. These comprise almost all of this album that Hambridge produced in Nashville. In addition to Cotton’s regular band of Darrell Nulisch on vocals, Tom Holland on guitar, Noel Neal on bass and Jerry Porter, Hambridge brought in as guests Joe Bonamassa, Gregg Allman, Keb Mo, Warren Haynes, Ruthie Foster, Delbert McClinton and Colin Linden with Chuck Leavell playing keyboards on much of this. Its been about two decades since Cotton lost his singing voice, so he is relegated to the harp here.
The title track is a warp-speed boogie with Cotton wailing on harmonica with Joe Bonamassa ripping off a solo as Nulisch sings about Cotton’s harp does all of his talking while Hambridge hammers away mechanically on drums (he plays better elsewhere). Midnight Train, opens with Cotton hoarsely speaking “Midnight Train to Mississippi,” and then comes off as an amplified Sonny Terry, while Chuck Leavell’s keyboards fit in with Cotton’s band. Gregg Allman takes the vocal on what is a straight train blues about the whistle blowing and his baby going away. Keb Mo has a strong vocal on Mississippi Mud, slow blues where Cotton’s harp and Leavell’s piano stand out..
The lyric of He Was There, traces Cotton’s career from recording to Sun and moving to Chicago with Cotton’s band augmented by Leavell wailing behind a fine vocal from Nulisch. Warren Haynes sings and adds driving blues-rock slide guitar for the rocking Something For Me which is followed by Ruthie Foster singing the lyric on the excellent Wrapped Around My Heart. Nulisch is terrific as Cotton and band revive Muddy Waters’ Bird Nest On The Ground.
Keb Mo returns to sing over the low-key backing on Wasn’t My Time To Go. This is a song about Cotton outliving his parents and siblings, as well as surviving a crazed gun man at a Chicago bus stop, with a refrain that so as long as Cotton can still blow, it ain’t his time to go. After the driving Blues Is Good For You, Cotton backed solely by Colin Linden’s resonator guitar, delivers the whiskey soaked vocal (not far removed from talking) on the closing Bonnie Blue.
As displayed on Cotton Mouth Man, James Cotton, and his harmonica, remains a formidable performer and is well-served by this varied and exciting recording.
I received by review copy from Alligator. Here is a clip of Mr. Superharp in performance.