Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Self Titled, East-West

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was one of the first mixed race blues bands, and arguably one of the finest. Their first two albums showcase Butterfield's singing and harmonica palying along with Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop on electric guitar, Mark Naftalin on organ, Jerome Arnold on bass and Sam Lay on drums and singing the lead vocal on the Muddy Waters classic "Got My Mojo Working." The album is filled with established classic blues compositions and the band tears through them as if their lives were dependent upon it. Starting with "Born in Chicago," the band lays down their bona fides for the city where electric blues was king. The group covers two Little Walter compositions, the classy "Blues With a Feeling" which is the aural equivalent to cruising the Windy City in a vintage Cadillac; and the haunting "Last Night" where they play the sad song dripping with emotion. Butterfield had great chutzpa to cover two song by such a fantastic harmonica player, but he shines on both with singing and blues harp playing in fine form. A couple of favorites from one of my blues heroes, Elmore James, jack the energy back up to eleven. "Shake Your Moneymaker" is a club staple and "Look on Yonder's Wall" give the guitarists a great chance to show off their slide guitar prowess. Certainly one of the most auspicious debut albums of the era. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - amazon.com

The follow-up album, East-West, is even more adventurous, adding jazz and raga to the mix for a potent genre bending LP. The lineup was the same, except for Billy Davenport replacing Sam Lay on drums. The highlights are the extraordinary instrumental workout on Nat Adderley's jazz classic "Work Song" where Butterfield outdoes himself echoing trumpet and saxophone parts in his own unique way. Things are even more impressive on the title composition "East-West" where elements of Indian music are added to blues and jazz to karmically link the music of Elmore James, John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar. Guitars and harmonica come in wave after wave of experimental music, laying waste to the idea that the blues was a stale, staid musical form. Of course they still played the blues too, opening with Robert Johnson's classic "Walkin' Blues" and adding Muddy Waters equally memorable "Two Trains Running." As fine as those are though, they can't reach the epochal heights of the two purely instrumental performances. Butterfield would never reach that high again either but he set quite a benchmark for other musicians to follow. East-West - amazon.com

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