Music

Muddy Waters: Martin Scorsese's The Blues: Muddy Waters

Peter Su

Muddy Waters

Martin Scorsese's the Blues: Muddy Waters

Label: Universal Chronicles
US Release Date: 2003-09-09
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Muddy Waters's sound is the sound of the blues. Even more than Chuck Berry is the prototypical rock artist, Waters is the prototypical blues artist. Just like one can't truly be a rock fan without liking Chuck Berry, it would be even more impossible to be a blues fan who, personal tastes aside, doesn't at least like Muddy Waters.

Muddy Waters, after all, has a larger body of memorable work created over a longer time in a wider stylistic range. Chuck Berry's canon consists mostly of classic singles from his first decade of recording and -- to the unfamiliar, disinterested listener -- Berry's songs can all sound kind of the same (Just like those same listeners could accuse Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bo Diddley, etc. of recording their respective one songs over and over; nothing wrong with that).

But Waters's sound encompasses both stereotypical blues sounds, from the kind played by Mississippi sharecroppers on acoustic guitars to the kind played in smoky clubs in Chicago. Even people who don't listen to the blues are familiar with the images, if not sounds, of such stereotypes. And no other blues artist was able to so drastically and successfully alter his sound from early Delta acoustic to Chicago electric.

Take, for instance, "Country Blues", the first track on this compilation. The resemblance to Son House and Robert Johnson is unmistakable. Even whole lyrical lines are drawn nearly verbatim from Johnson's "Walking Blues", which in turn is drawn from House's "Death Letter Blues". Moreover, the strength of Waters's performance merits such comparisons. Waters especially sounds like Johnson, though with a slower, deeper voice made fuller by better recording equipment. Somewhat surprisingly for the future hoochie coochie man, the emotion here is more grounded and coolly reflective than either House or Johnson. Not as ethereal, perhaps, but nearly as powerful. And "Death Letter Blues" and "Walking Blues" were two of the very best from their respective artists.

Then, for comparison, skip ahead to the last song, "The Blues Had a Baby and They Named it Rock and Roll". The guitar is electrified and loud, the drums pound along to the strutting bassline, and Waters bellows his lyrics. Yet, if the contrast is startling, it's ultimately just as startling a testament to Waters's talent and range that the 14 songs in-between should play so smoothly.

Part of Waters's greatness rests on his prowess as a bandleader, with his group being the early stomping grounds for a remarkable roster of great names from Otis Spann to Buddy Guy to Little Walter, among many others. In addition to his own musical talents, Waters could recognize, guide, and develop talent. Even as he himself made the transition from the Delta to Chicago, Waters was fostering new talent that would inspire a still-younger generation of artists. The order of the songs on this album, despite the contrast between the first and last songs, make so much sense because Waters's band was one of the prime movers -- arguably the prime mover -- in creating the guidelines of the transition. There is thus no Spinal Tap moment where "Cups and Cakes" are instantly forgotten so that the band may "(Listen to the) Flower People".

Another part of Waters's greatness is based on the sheer volume of his great songs. Without slighting Waters's immense talents, part of this is because, compared to his greatest Chess peers, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf, Waters began recording the earliest and outlived them both to record memorable later albums with Johnny Winters. By virtue of his greater stylistic range over a greater range of time and his being a nurturer of young talent, Waters is the most historically important of the three. Yet, if one judges only by their respective best songs or a top album or two, it becomes much harder to argue for Waters being the greatest of the three.

But if this one disc doesn't prove it, this album really is a better purchase than comparable single disc collections of either Williamson or Wolf. Because of the aforementioned volume of Waters's good stuff, this album provides a mesmerising overview while leaving the door open for easily getting more Muddy Waters music without too much repetition. Sure, you could buy the two disc Anthology, but you could also get this and augment your collection with the Real Folk Blues / More Real Folk Blues single disc with only a handful of repeats. Or you could get his complete collection of early plantation recordings, only one of which is represented here. Or check out more of his Blue Sky work with Johnny Winters, likewise only excerpted here once. Given so much good music from Waters, this is as good a place to start as any.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.