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
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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.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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