Thursday, January 13, 2011

Big Walter Horton - Blues Harmonica Giant (JSP, 2010)

Big Walter “Shakey” Horton was an influential blues harmonica player and singer who recorded as a leader and a sideman for a variety of labels from the early 1950’s until the late 1970’s. Horton has a huge impact amongst blues players, but was rather reticent himself, preferring to play as a sideman rather than aggressively promote himself as a leader. This compilation has two discs that cover Horton’s early records under his own name from 1951 - 1956, primarily for the Sun Records label and then subsequently licensed to other labels. Horton’s harmonica playing is strong and supple throughout these two discs, and his vocals are not half had either (a couple of early sides were attributed to Mumbles, which Walter understandably didn’t care for.) Horton’s vocals come through particularly well on the mid-tempo “Hard Hearted Woman” and “Black Gal” which make for complete performances. But the most impressive performances are the harmonica based instrumentals like the bruising “Off the Wall” and a couple dedicated to his namesake “Little Walter’s Boogie” in multiple takes. Disc 2 picks up the remaining sides of the period along with some alternate and rehearsal takes. Disc 3 is the ringer in the batch, a bootleg quality live recording of Horton and harmonica protege Carey Bell performing in concert in either 1968 or 1973 depending on who you believe. Both men are in fine form, but the chronology is out of sync with the other discs and the poor recording quality make it a questionable inclusion. The collection also does not include Horton’s discs cut for the Chess Records label in the 1950’s apparently due to licensing concerns. The discographical data is adequate for the first two discs, but missing for the final disc. Neil Slaven’s liner notes are brief and leave considerable gaps in Walter Horton’s story. Overall, this is recommended with reservations for fans of the post war blues scene. The music itself for the most part is quite good, and Horton deserves more recognition for his role in developing the amplified harmonica, but the collection is a little bit patchy and unfocused and perhaps geared more toward hard collectors rather than general blues enthusiasts. Blues Harmonica Giant -

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