The blues world was abuzz when word got out that a previously unknown live recording of the legendary Magic Sam was coming out on Delmark. Live at the Avant Garde makes available a June 22, 1968 performance at a Milwaukee coffee house” is a revelation among the live recordings of Magic Sam by the clarity of the location recording. Jim Charne, who made the recordings, describes how it all came about in the liner notes as well as background on the coffeehouse which would close several months after this performance. The sound of Sam’s vocals and guitar as well as that of his backing musicians, bassist Big Mojo Elem and drummer Bob Richey, sounds almost like they were in a recording studio.
In addition to the clean, crisp sound, the music is exceptional. I am not claiming that Sam is better than the prior live recordings, which I have not listened to recently. Just that Sam’s playing is terrific and his vocals are right on, from the first notes of his cover of Freddie King’s San-Ho-Zay to the closing B.B. King instrumental, Hully Gully Twist. There are strong renditions of I Don’t Want No Woman, I Need Your Love So Bad, Feeling Good, That’s All I Need and Looking Good, all from the West Side Soul album that had been issued a few months previously. There are also his rendition of Lowell Fulson’s Its All My Fault (a source of Sam’s All Your Love), his own Bad Luck Blues and “You Belong to Me, Muddy Waters’ Still a Fool, Junior Wells Come On In This House, Jimmy McCracklin’s Every Day, Every Night,” Jimmy Rogers’ That’s All Right, and Otis Rush’s All Your Love (I Miss Loving).
One thing that is worth noting is the range of artists and songs Magic Sam covered this June 1968 evening. Yet whether singing a Muddy Waters classic or Otis Rush, Sam brought his own voice and distinctive guitar while supported by the marvelous duo of Elem and Richey. The songs are performed at a nice tempo and lack the frenzy or overwrought vocals that mar a couple of performances on West Side Soul (Mama Talk To Your Daughter and My Love Will Never Die on that classic album). With this wonderful sound and superb music, Live at the Avant Garde is more than the best sounding live Magic Sam recording. It is another terrific Magic Sam album.
I received my review copy from Delmark.