Various Artists: 55 Years Of Blues (2009)
Surely over half a century is more than long enough for anyone to have the blues? Well in Delmark's case the answer's a resounding negative, especially in view of what's on offer here. The very position of the label has of course ensured that it's documented the Chicago scene closely, but as this compilation shows that's only part of the story.
Big Joe Williams, complete with his patented nine-string guitar, is a case in point. More than distinct echoes of the country blues are all through his "Coffeehouse Blues," even while his sheer drive and the size of his beat are more the products of the urban environment than they are anywhere else. He's also a prime example of how the passing of time has had the odd but not unwelcome effect of making his music even more compelling.
By contrast, Syl Johnson's "Keep On Loving Me" is exclusively the work of the city, and a relatively uptown district at that for all of Johnson's lyrical concerns and impassioned delivery. Teenie Hodges' guitar comes out of there too, but such is his tendency to understatement that the impression is not without ambiguity.
The alternate of Roosevelt Sykes's "Fine And Brown" lopes along in a fashion all its own, the leader's vocal taking in equal parts of both Big Joe Turner in its shout and Tommy Johnson in its near yodel. The instrumental backing is caught up in a kind of melancholy rapture and is all the better for it.
It could be argued that J.B. Hutto was the living embodiment of Chicago blues in his day and even when he recycles the "Dust My Broom" riff as he does here on "Evening Train" that truism isn't altered one iota. He never sang a word as though he didn't mean it totally sincerely and the resulting music is so heavy with resonance that it's nothing but life-affirming.
It's the same but different with Junior Wells' "Little By Little." It's caught live in every sense, the band weaving and meshing beguilingly behind the leader's impassioned vocal and harmonica.
As per Delmark's jazz set under the same umbrella title as this one, the accompanying DVD is more a sample of the label's current activities. As such it's a symbol of dedication to the cause of music that's always going to pay the right kind of emotional dividends. It's also a sign of deep commitment, something that isn't exactly in abundant supply in days like these.
Track Listing: CD: Little By Little; I Ain't Gonna Sell It; Call My Job; Evening Train; Suffering Mind; Coffeehouse Blues; Keep On Loving Me; Love Abuse; Do You Love Me?; Baby What You Want Me To Do?; Blue Mood; Fine & Brown (alternate); I'll Be Your Mule; Please Love Me; The Right String But The Wrong Yo-Yo; Feel So Bad; Not For The Love Of You; I Don't Want No Woman. DVD: Tend To Your Business; Country Boy In The City; Baby Please Don't Go; Broke And Hungry; Judge Of Honor; In Too Deep; Leaving Mississippi; Cool Twist; 'Til The Fat Lady Sings; My Head Is Bald.
Personnel: CD: Junior Wells; Sleepy John Estes; Detroit Jr.; J.B. Hutto; Barkin' Bill; Big Joe Williams; Syl Johnson; Shirley Johnson; Willie Kent; Bonnie Lee; Floyd McDaniel; Roosevelt Sykes; Steve Freund; Otis Rush; Speckled Red; Jimmy Dawkins; Magic Sam. DVD: Tail Dragger; Jimmy Burns; Lurrie Bell; Carey Bell; Byther Smith; Dave Specter; Little Arthur Duncan; Mississippi Heat; Zora Young; Tail Dragger.