Music

James Cotton: The 35th Anniversary Jam

Domenic Forcella

James Cotton

The 35th Anniversary Jam

Label: Telarc
US Release Date: 2002-05-28
UK Release Date: 2002-06-24
Amazon
iTunes

For years, James Cotton has been synonymous with harmonica excellence. His latest release erases any doubt for blues fans about who stands at the head of the increasingly talented corps of harp players. Over three decades ago, Cotton left the Muddy Waters Band to front his own group, leading what was to become one of the longest-running blues bands around. Now he celebrates the original 1967 release of that first self-titled album as the James Cotton Band with a new release. The 35th Anniversary Jam of the James Cotton Blues Band on Telarc Records consists mainly Cotton originals and showcases his massive harmonica skills.

While using an all-star cast to handle the vocals (Cotton's voice is no longer able to sustain a concert performance level), it is Cotton who maintains the continuity across tracks. And he doesn't just play but blasts his way through each song with verve and energy. It is Cotton's remarkable ability to control the music without being the vocalist that reinforces recognition of his skill.

The CD immediately grabs your attention with the first track, "Don't Start Me to Talking". With guest blues man Kenny Neal providing the vocals and Cotton's current band member David Maxwell on piano, the track is contagious. There's also deep history, if you recall that was Sonny Boy Williamson's trademark tune, and James Cotton as a 9-year-old boy was Sonny Boy Williamson's young and determined harmonica protégé.

This is only one of two covers included in the 53-minute, 12-track set. The rest of the base band consists of Mike Williams on rhythm guitar, Noel Neal on bass, and Per Hanson on drums providing the backing groove for Cotton and an amazing roster of guest artists.

On "The Creeper", Cotton blows up the vision of a railroad train, engine steaming, comin' towards you. Five minutes of this energy is sure to get anyone's heart pumping. Each song has its own signature being written by a variety of guest vocalists and musicians. Vocalists include the likes of Koko Taylor, Lucky Peterson, and Shemekia Copeland. G.E. Smith, Tab Benoit, and Jimmie Vaughan are sitting in on guitar. Singer Peterson is joined by guitarist Derek O'Brien on "Cotton Crop Blues" and together they push Cotton into some explosive harp playing. Throughout the CD, Cotton will wail out solos that make you glad you're listening. It takes quite some imagination to even try to figure out just how he does it. Shemekia Copeland turns in a strong confident performance as she continues to grow in the art of blues singing. G.E. displays his strong guitar skills while some of the other guests include Ronnie Hawkins, Syl Johnson, Maria Muldaur, and Kim Wilson.

The CD ends with "Blues for the Hook", a dedication to the late John Lee Hooker, an instrumental featuring Cotton and Vaughan.

Assembled and recorded together, this is a truly amazingly talented group. But the album also shows that after close to 50 years, James Cotton is not ready to retire. In fact, his sound is still young, fresh, and inventive. If the CD does nothing else, it reminds everyone that James Cotton is still the undisputed Mr. Superharp.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image