Blues Masters Vol. 2 – Various Artists – AudioQuest/ MasterMusic xrcd24 NT016, 63:39 ****1/2:
Audioquest blues collection gets an xrcd update.
(Featuring Mighty Sam McClain; Robert Lucas; Terry Evans; Joe Beard; Lloyd Jones; Sherman Robertson; Doug Macleod and Ronnie Earl)
Blues Masters Vol. 2 – Various Artists is exactly as advertised, a collection of 90’s blues music. MasterMusic has assembled a group of AudioQuest performances and released them in on 24-bit xrcd. Representing the soul wing is Mighty Sam McClain who (like others) is featured on more than one cut. “A Soul That’s Been Abused” is a slow-burning testament to love gone bad. With four-man trumpet/saxophone framework and B.B. King-like guitar (Kevin Barry) licks, McClain offers gritty vocals and sells it big time. Bruce Katz’ keyboards (especially organ) support the instrumental premise.
Many of these players appear on the finale, “Got To Have Your Love”. This one has a late-night, low-down vibe. McClain’s urgency in his vocals can be felt, as the singer pleads his case. Tenor saxophonist Bennie Wallace is potent. With more upbeat hooks and gospel reverence, McClain delivers Southern blues in Stax-inspired eloquence. He has all of the intensity of Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett. This collection has several glowing arrangements. “Blues No More” (by Terry Evans) boasts a rare trombone solo, Ry Cooder slide guitar and haunting resonance to complement Evans’ emotional vocals. This sounds different from most blues songs. Evans returns on “Money In Your Pocket”, a good-time dance hall number. He is joined again by Cooder and Ray Williams on vocals.
Delta gets the proper respect on “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” (by the legendary Sonny Boy Williamson). Robert Lucas manages to shine on vocals, slide guitar and harp. This version has the organic quality of this sub-genre, but adds some electric distortion. With a decidedly more urban air, Lucas swings on “Shed A Tear”. This original (with features Steve F’dor’s honky-tonk piano) is muscular and plain fun. This album celebrates modern blues explorations. Lloyd Jones (on his single contribution) adopts a New Orleans strut to “I’ll Be Laughing (When He Makes You Cry)”. Great percussion, horn choruses and a relentless groove drive this party jam. The lone instrumental, “Chili Ba High” is a raucous cut, thanks to Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters. It is downright nasty and Earl (guitar) and Bruce Katz (piano) light it up. The group backs up Joe Beard on “Just To Be With You”.
A lot of talented musicians are part of this collection. Little Feat veterans Bill Payne (piano, keyboards) and Richie Hayward (drums) frame Sherman Robertson’s soul opus, “I Wonder Why”. Payne’s moody electric piano has a velvety texture and is nothing short of compelling. Robertson’s high-register voice and guitar punctuations are dynamic. At the opposite end (and in a more serious context) is the acoustic blues from Doug Macleod on the political “Whose Truth, Whose Lies?” The foot-stomping folk aesthetics enliven things considerably.
The quality of the music is matched by the state-of-the-art quality of the JVC 24-bit digital technology on the master (the xrcd plays on any CD deck, no decoder required). The level of instrumental clarity and precision is palpable. In addition various effects (reverb, echo) envelop the tonality and expand the aural environment. It’s assuring to see great roots-based music get the technological upgrade it richly deserves.
[I’ve put this in the hi-res section because of its fidelity, though being a standard CD it is really not, as with vinyl…Ed.]
TrackList : A Soul That’s Been Abused; Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; Blues No More; Just To Be With You; Give It Up To Love; Money In Your Pocket; Shed A Tear; I’ll Be Laughing (When He Makes You Cry); Chili Ba Hugh; I Wonder Why; Whose Truth, Whose Lies; Got To Have Your Love