For those not already in the know: 2120 South Michigan Avenue is the address of Chicago’s legendary Chess Records—and the title of a track recorded there and included on the immortal Rolling Stones release 12 X 5, an album that inspired a young George Thorogood to write to Chess and request their catalog. Catalog received, life changed, leading to a long and prosperous career spent singing not just the label’s praises but material that first appeared on the imprint. 2120 South Michigan Avenue is comprised almost entirely of material from Chess’s rich history.
But his is far from a mere tribute –– the 12-song collection is a reminder not only of the vitality of blues and R&B music but the vitality of Thorogood and his band as well. For an artist who’s been making albums since 1977 to sound this lean and this hungry seems impossible, but here it is: a quick and detailed lesson on how to stay fit and fighting.
Opening with the “Going Back”, an invocation to the muse co-written by Thorogood and Tom Hambridge, and closing out with the titular track, this is an album that any artist would be proud to claim as their own. “High Heel Sneakers” (on which Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy guests) sounds as fresh and vital as the day it was born, and the reading of “Spoonful” here nearly erases any memory of the half-baked renditions we’ve been forced to endure both in clubs and on records made by lesser artists. As delightfully dark and dirty as that reading is, Thorogood has always been at his best when the tempos and adrenaline meters are pushing their way into the red. Witness “Mama Talk to Your Daughter”, “Seventh Son”, and “Let It Rock”, each one reminding us of the almighty rhythm element of rhythm and blues.
The Destroyers play their part in this of course. The unstoppable rhythm section of Jeff Simon (drums) and Bill Blough (bass) is as vibrant and locked-in as ever, and both Thorogood and fellow guitarist Jim Suhler write whole textbooks on flair and feel by the measure. (Saxophonist Buddy Leach rounds out the band.) Perhaps nowhere is the basic power of this group more evident than on “Bo Diddley”, the name of the man and the beat which Thorogood and Co. have appropriated on more than a few occasions in a career that stretches back nearly 40 years. It’s the simplicity, the restraint, and the unapologetic reverence that reminds us why and how this band has staying power –– by, as the cliché goes, placing music above all else.
The other self-penned track here, “Willie Dixon’s Gone”, is a fitting tribute to the long gone great and seems destined to become a live—and possibly radio—favorite from here on out. Charlie Musselwhite guests on two tracks, “My Babe” and the title cut, and Thorogood is wise to keep the guest appearances to a minimum. While it’s great to have talented friends come by for a visit, they aren’t as essential as main event, and pretending otherwise would be a colossal mistake.
2120 South Michigan Avenue is proof positive that George Thorogood and the Destroyers are as vital as ever, and that revisiting one’s past doesn’t mean being incapable of striding boldly forward into the future.