Magic is not slim. He’s about six foot five, a little portly, and crowned with an oversize straight-brimmed hat. And he plays blues, just like he looks: formidably. Interestingly, the promotional material labels him “The Human Jukebox.” Well, I always thought that Sleepy LaBeef was the Human Jukebox. They’re both about the same size, that’s for sure! What a Deathmatch 2000 pair: Sleepy and Magic each slugging each other out with their various versions of jukebox hits!
I digress. Magic Slim has been a presence in the Chicago blues scene since the mid-1960s. He even stepped into Hound Dog Taylor’s shoes as a regular at Florence’s, a popular blues club on the South Side. Magic Slim is all Chicago blues. His musical world is small, but within it he is a master. He plays a Fender Jazzmaster through a tube amp that gives him a beautiful and soft, yet simultaneously tinny and full, sound. Combined with his booming and gruff voice, Magic can fill up any club with sound. My biggest disappointment with this CD is the somewhat endless tonic-fourth-tonic-fifth-fourth-tonic blues that seemed to make up each song. This is houserockin’ music, but sometimes I craved a little variability or expansion in genre. I have said that this is all Chicago and houserockin’, well that’s about all it is. Hound Dog Taylor did it better, but that’s not to say that Magic flails. His guitar chops knock down walls. I think I have said this before, this CD doesn’t excite me, but I would run at the chance to hear Magic Slim and the Teardrops in my town.
Also recently released on Wolf Records is L.V. Banks’s Ruby. Banks is another veteran of the Chicago Blues scene, playing the clubs there for over 20 years. Like Magic Slim, Banks plays Chicago blues—straight ahead electric blues. He adds piano to the mix, though, which stretches some of his songs into a little boogie-woogie. He mixes his own guitar work with piano riffs so that they play off each other and showcase more of the music rather than just solo chops. Banks is smooth; his music reminds at times if B.B. King, though his guitar work remains timid at times, and even forgetful. His blues fills are great, though his solo work lacks luster. Listening to both 44 Blues and Ruby back to back, I can’t decide if one of these releases is better than the other. Magic Slim is unquestionably a better guitar player, but Banks’s music is more interesting and variable in both its tone and its genre. Also, Banks has penned one of the finest blues lines I have ever heard. His pedestrian vision of heartache on “Miss You Blue” hits so much closer to reality than any epic cry of grief: “I had a cup of coffee and I had a sweet roll / I had a cup of coffee and I had a sweet roll / I walked to the bus stop and I felt so cold.” Nobody, not nobody, writes about sweet rolls. For nothing else gives Banks a special place in my musical heart.