Chicago Blues – A Living History, The (R)evolution Continues – Raisin’ Music RM1004 (2 CDs), *****:
(Featuring The Living Blues History Band: Billy Flynn – guitar; Matthew Skoller – harmonica; Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith – drums; Felton Crews – bass; Johnny Iguana – keyboards; with special guests: Buddy Guy; James Cotton; Magic Slim; Ronnie Baker Brooks; Zora Young Mike Avery; with Billy Boy Arnold – vocals, John Primer guitar, vocals; Billy Branch – harmonica, vocals, Lurrie bell – guitar, vocals; Carlos Johnson – guitar vocals)
An absorbing microcosm of American history can be found in blues music. The roots of this cultural movement can be traced back to the era of slavery. As African-Americans settled in the Delta regions of the rural South, acoustic blues (with a decidedly country feel) was developed. When the migration north to larger cities (most noticeably Chicago) began, the music took on an urban, and later electrified sound. Chicago became the home to American blues, and launched the careers of several iconic stars.
The roots of this movement can be found a variety of modern musical forms. Rock ‘n’ roll (Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc). is a direct product. The British Invasion in the ‘60s is entirely due to blues (The Rolling Stones named their band from a Muddy Waters song). Jazz, rhythm and blues, pop, hip hop and country all have been influenced. The connective tissue of this idiom to the American and global narrative is unmistakable.
In 2009, Raisin’ Music released the 22-track, 2-CD set, Chicago Blues: A Living History. Blues pioneers and present day practitioners paid homage to the Windy City’s role in establishing a bona fide artistic genre. The (R)evolution Continues maintains the top notch historical interpretation with selected material covering nearly six decades. The “house” band (Billy Flynn, Matthew Skoller, Kenny “Beady Eyes Smith, Felton Crews and Johnny Iguana) continues to back modern legends, Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell and Carlos Johnson, as well as Hall-of-Famers Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Magic Slim, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Zora Young and Mike Avery. Foremost in this project is the refreshing selection of songs. The opening track (CD One) is a sly rendition of Lonnie Johnson’s “He’s A Jelly Roll Baker”. Arnold does justice to another 1940s tune, (Tampa Red’s “I’ll Be Up Again Someday”). The album chooses more eclectic material. John Primer shines on Muddy Water’s “Canary Bird” and Jimmy Rogers” migration saga, “Chicago Bound” Harmonica virtuosity by James Cotton enlivens the classic “Rocket 88” (Jackie Brensten). Disc One, with songs from the forties and fifties, ends with a medley “Mellow Down Easy (little Walter)/Bo Diddley”. The Living Blues Band complements the singers with sharp precision. In particular, Johnny Iguana stretches out on piano with a variety of barrelhouse and boogie-woogie riffs.
Disc Two has the inimitable Buddy Guy (once a young gun and now a revered guru) belting out “First Time I Met The Blues” (Eurreal Montgomery). Billy Branch revitalizes Elmore James on “Yonder Wall” with growling vocals and a groove-laden harmonica line. Zora Young provides the sole female voice on “Be Careful How You Vote”. Nearly every track is loaded with great blues musicianship and endearing colloquial hyperbole. From Howlin’ Wolf (“Howlin’ For My Baby”) to Chuck Berry (“Reelin’ And Rockin”), classic and lesser-known gems are reintroduced with reverent exuberance.
Music aside, the packaging of this 2-CD set is a treat. Incisive liner notes include a fascinating timeline that outlines the careers of these icons. Minute details, like a harmonica solo order for “Rocket 88” set this apart from most anthology projects. There is a wealth of vintage black and white photographs (Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Otis Spann, Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Willie Dixon, among many), as well as present day color photos that will remind the listener of the legacy being presented.
This is not a perfunctory greatest hits package. It is a living testament to the spirit of authentic music. Veteran blues enthusiasts and newer devotees will enrich their audio library with Chicago Blues – A Living History The (R)evolution Continues.
Disc One: He’s A Jelly Roll Baker; I’ll Be Up Again Someday; She Don’t Love Me That Way; Canary Bird; Stockyard Blues; Diamonds At Your Feet; Rocket 88; Reelin’ And Rockin’; Medley: Mellow Down Easy/Bo Diddlely Disc Two: First Time I Met The Blues; Keep A-Drivin’; Easy Baby; Howlin’ For My Baby; My Daily Wish; Yonder Wall; Be Careful How You Vote; Somebody Loan Me A Dime; Got To Leave Chi-Town; Don’t Take Advantage Of Me; Ain’t Enough Comin’ In; Make These Blues Survive; The Blues Had A Baby (And They Named It Rock And Roll)