Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Little Walter - Blues With a Feeling (Chess, 1995)

Much more than an odds 'n' sods collection, this double disc offering of rare recordings from the harmonica master Little Walter Jacobs has some wonderful music and staggering harp playing. The alternate takes of Walter standards "Juke" and "Blues With a Feeling" stand up well besides their master takes, and Walter's instrumental numbers are really impressive, extending the range of the harmonica to places few could take it. His vocals are also quite assured, strutting with the braggadocio of his mentor Muddy Waters. Other highlights include a swinging "Mean Ole Frisco" and deep down an emotional "Me and Piney Brown" and a fine emotional version of the standard "Goin' Down Slow." While this probably isn't the best place to make Little Walter's acquaintance (the one disc His Best is the cream of the crop) fans of old-school Chicago blues will be delighted with this set which includes a generous amount of rare music and a fine liner essay.

John Lee Hooker - Hooker and the Hogs (Indigo, 1996)

This was recorded during one of Hooker's earliest forays to Europe, when he hooked up with a sympathetic British R&B band called The Groundhogs. Charles Scharr Murray's JLH biography provides an interesting description of the tour, with Hooker suffering the flu, hating the food and complaining about the lack of good TV in the hotels, but soldiering on with the band in their tour van and earning their everlasting respect and appreciation in the process. Since Hooker was one of the most idiosyncratic of all bluesmen, it couldn't have been easy for this group, but they do a pretty good job and keep the spotlight squarely on their guest. JLH is in fine form, cutting a deep groove on the super-slow "I Cover the Waterfront" and jumping and grinding on "Mai Lee" and "Don't Be Messing With My Bread." His guitar is angular and raw and vocals deep and declamatory. Strangely, this disc is filled out with what sounds like 78's from Hooker's earliest Detroit recordings. Valuable music to be sure, but a little bit out of place on this recording. Still, this is a fine snapshot from the lengthy life and career of one of the greatest bluesmen.

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