As the first track, “Help Me,” begins, we hear the recently departed Junior Wells speaking about the long departed Sonny Boy Williamson. Wells talks about Sonny Boy as his teacher, and as a master of both the blues and the “blues harp.” This particular track pays a great tribute to Sonny Boy, and the first five tracks on this compilation pay an equally wonderful tribute to Junior Wells.
This album is broken into seven sections, one for each featured artist. Aside from Wells’ five, we also get five from James Cotton, four from Charlie Musselwhite, and appearances by Big Walter and Paul Butterfield, two more of the giants of the “blues harp.” As an added incentive to fans of Chicago blues, guitarist Buddy Guy and pianist Otis Spann are present on a few tracks a piece.
As compilations go, this one does a fairly respectable job of holding my attention, mostly due to the caliber of performances from all involved. Wells shows no mercy in his play or singing, driving each tune to the heights which made him a star. Guy’s guitar work fuels the fire on “Stormy Monday Blues,” (which, oddly enough, doesn’t actually contain any harmonica leads or solos.)
The tracks featuring Big Walter Horton are fantastic. Walter blows his way through The Johnny Shine Blues Band’s performance of “Hey, Hey,” with the smoothness and hypnotic calmness associated with the Chicago sound. He then takes the forefront on the harp-lead instrumental, “Rockin’ My Boogie,” which features Memphis Charlie, (whose tone sounds a lot like that of Charlie Musselwhite, even though he’s not credited on this track.)
Overall, the major players, along with some small performers with big performances, make for an enjoyable experience. The fact that there are a few fantastic live recordings more than makes up for the slightly-below-par audio quality of the same tracks. Anyone fan of the old Chicago blues harp sound should find this comp to be worth their time and money.
// Notes from the Road
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