[2 April 2014]
Now here’s a blues album for ya. Recorded in 1968 and getting its first-ever CD release, Magic Sam Live at the Avant Garde is a time capsule from the days when this Chicago blues trio could step into a Milwaukee club and tear the place up. Magic Sam’s guitar throttling is dextrous, snaky but always clean, and his rhythm section of Big Mojo Elam on bass and Bob Richey on drums keeps everything moving along nicely. From instrumental opener “San-Ho-Zay” to well-worn standards such as “Hoochie Coochie Man”, the band is simultaneously energetic, laid back and tighter than a watch spring.
Sam’s vocals are unvarnished but honest in the way that true blues delivery requires, and the between-song patter is just a bonus (one that does not wear out its welcome, either). There’s no showing off here, as Sam is a practitioner of the “less is more” school of guitar wizardry, but the solos are extensive and note-perfect without being busy. Standout cuts include the nervy “Lookin’ Good” and the murky, downtempo “It’s All Your Fault, Baby”, but the whole album is smoking hot. Sam tragically passed away in 1969, but this recording stands as a testament to his mastery.