Monday, May 11, 2020

MUDDY WATER'S WOODSTOCK ABLUM: brilliant blues with Muddy and Paul Butterfield

I spent dozens of hours breaking down and learning his harmonica work on "Broke My Baby's Heart" and "New Walking Blues". Wonderful, wonderful blues playing, with perhaps the best band he ever formed. If you haven't already, check out the obscure Muddy Waters Woodstock Album. The album is a revelation, as it has Waters stepping a few steps back from the rocking, Chicago style back beat, raw and blistering in a fashion only genius can achieve, and here taking up a swing upbeat. 

Save for the rumblings of Waters' voice, always a place of deep echo and lean-close innuendo, some of these tracks would fit in well with the suited urbanity of B.B.King. It is a gem alright, a rousing, spirited transitional session placing Waters beyond his stylistic comfort zone. But not too far. Pinetop Perkins provides a bright piano throughout, and former Band utility musician Garth Hudson is a triple threat here on organ, saxophone, and accordion; his accordion work, surprisingly, is a wonderful blues instrument, as can be heard on the sturdy workouts on "Going Down to Main Street", "Caldonia"

.Whatever jokes the instrument and it's players have suffered at the hands of one comedian over the decades abates somewhat with Hudson's finely fingered boogie and sparkling fills. What caught my ear was the harmonica playing of the late Paul Butterfield; perhaps among the handful of truly important blues harpists, his playing here equals his best efforts. Punchy, fleet, gutty and clean in the same breath, Butterfield demonstrates his mastery of tone and phrase, combining moaning raunch and inspiring single-note runs for maximum effect. 

Butterfield fans ought to acquire this disc straight away; it's an essential addition to your harmonica player collection. This is a terrific addition to his previous collaboration with Waters, the stomping Fathers and Sons. For Waters, he is relaxed, at ease, in full command of his singularly masterful voice; within that limited range he can raise the voice to its breaking point, emphasizing a point, highlighting a hurt, suggesting a rebellion against what brings him down, and then slide to the lowest corner of his range and provide the gritty realism that is his hallmark as a blues artist. 

One is also served a generous portion of Waters' slide guitar work, a perfect compliment to Bob Margolin's stinging bends and blurs; Waters touch is sure and spare, producing a thin, nervous, clear line. It is a wonderful texture in a full-bodied, hard-swinging band. A battler, a lover, a philosopher of the hard road, never with self-pity, never without it.

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