Chicago/The Blues/Today! – Vanguard Stereolab /Pure Pleasure Records (3 LPs)

by | Jan 10, 2012 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Chicago/The Blues/Today! – Vanguard Stereolab VSD 792167/8 (1966)/Pure Pleasure Records (2011) 180-gram stereo audiophile vinyl (3 LPs) with 20-p. booklet, *****:
(Featuring Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band; Otis Rush Blues Band; Johnny Shines Blues Band; J.B. Hutto And His Hawks; Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet; Johnny Young’s South Side Blues Band; Otis Spann’s South Side Piano; Homesick James And His Dusters; Big Walter Horton’s Blues Harp Band With Memphis Charlie)
By the mid-sixties, the blues scene was evolving from its acoustic roots. Muddy Waters acknowledged that he felt “obligated” to perform an acoustic set at the Newport Folk Festival. Regardless, the blues technology shift was underway, and the new Mecca was Southside Chicago. One of the labels that started this revolution was Vanguard Recordings. Under the stewardship of historian/producer Samuel Charters, a trilogy of recordings, Chicago/Blues/Today!, changed the landscape. Blues music was introduced to an entirely new audience, who were getting their blues fix from rock musicians (Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, etc.). For economic reasons, Charters recorded three acts on each record, in essence providing a topical cross-section of 1965 Chicago blues.
Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered these albums to audiophile vinyl. Each group is remarkable, and at the top of their game. Volume 1 begins with a set by The Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band. Wells’ forceful harp play and husky vocals energize the quartet of tracks, including the hit, “Messin’ With the Kid”. Buddy Guy shows why so many guitarists copied his style with ferocious licks on “Viet Cong Blues” and “It Hurts Me Too (When Things Go Wrong)” J.B. Hutto And His Hawks serve up a blistering slide guitar-laden quintet. The connection to acoustic roots can be heard on rockabilly blues jams like “Please Help” and “That’s The Truth”. This trio can rock and get down and dirty. Otis Spann’s South Side Piano (a duet with drums) is the only piano-led group. Spann explodes with barrelhouse, boogie-woogie riffs on a five song set that includes three rollicking instrumentals (“Marie”, “S.P. Blues” and “Spann’s Stomp”). His technique is raucous, full of cascading flourishes and downbeats. With his stalwart left hand bass, it sounds like a larger ensemble is playing.
Volume 2 is comprised by three Mississippi natives. The Jimmy Cotton Blues Quartet evokes roadhouse grittiness on their five opus contribution. Cotton is a mesmerizing harp player. “Cotton Crop Blues” and the classic, “Rocket 88” erupt with screeching harmonica solos and soulful vocals. Spann adds his piano versatility to the mix. The blues is given a modern context in “The Blues Keep Falling” as Cotton intones“…my brother’s in Viet Nam and I don’t know what to do!…”. Tempos get cranked up with the inimitable Otis Rush Blues Band. With two guitars, alto saxophone, bass and drum, the r & b vibe appears on “It’s A Mean Old World”. Rush is a gifted player, and his rhythmic, guitar hooks on “Rock” are lightning fast. His version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is quintessential. Homesick James And His Dusters are a “blues power trio”. Williamson is adept at the slack-keyed bottleneck work, and knows how to recount the despair of love. Willie Dixon (“Spoonful”, “Back Door Man”) is a revelatory bass player.
The final volume showcases Walter Thornton in three different bands. Johnny Young’s Southside Blues Band features the versatile Young on guitar and mandolin. On jams like “One More Time’ and “Kid Man Blues” the rocking guitar and frantic harp runs are exhilarating. The chemistry between the two performers is discernible. His collaboration with The Johnny Shines Blues Bands covers a range of numbers from acoustic country (“Dynaflow Blues”) to harder-edged vamps (“If I Lay Down My Shoes And Clothes”). A double harmonica celebration begins when Memphis Charlie Musselwhite joins Big Walter’s Blues Harp Band on “Rockin’ My Boogie”.
The conversion to 180-gram vinyl is impressive. The guitars sound crisp and distortion-free. The growling vocals are clearer, but not overproduced. These weary raspy voices sound like authentic bluesmen. Minor details like the augmenting of the bass guitars and lower register piano notes make a great record even better. (Note; There is also a CD available). Included is a twenty-page booklet that is a treasure. Liner notes (especially the originals from Charters) are a virtual primer in American blues history. A sensational collection of black and white photographs (shot by Charters’ wife Ann) will put a smile on the face of any blues fan. There is an old black and white photo of Jimi Hendrix clutching an original copy of Chicago/Blues/Today!. It was good enough for Hendrix…and fortunate for the rest of us.
TrackList: Volume 1
Side One: Help Me (A Tribute To Sonny Boy Williamson); It Hurts Me Too (When Things Go Wrong); Messin’ With The Kid; Vietcong Blues; All Night Long; Going Ahead; Please Help
Side Two: Too Much Alcohol; Married Woman Blues; That’s The Truth; Marie; Burning Fire; S.P. Blues; Sometimes I Wonder; Spann’s Stomp
TrackList: Volume 2
Side One: Cotton Crop Blues; The Blues Keep Falling; Love Me Or Leave Me; Rocket 88; West Helena Blues; Everything’s Going To Turn Out Alright; It’s A Mean Old World
Side Two: I Can’t Quit You Baby; Rock; It’s My Own Fault; Dust My Broom; Somebody Been Talkin’; Set A Date; So Mean To Me
TrackList: Volume 3
Side One: One More Time; Kid Man Blues; My Black Mare; Stealin’ Back; I Got Mine In Time; Tighten Up On It;
Side Two: Dynaflow Blues; Black Spider Blues; Layin’ Down My Shoes And Clothes; If I Get Lucky; Rockin’ My Boogie; Mr. Boweevil; Hey,Hey
–Robbie Gerson

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