Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Chicago/The Blues/Today! Vol. 1 (2022) Vinyl Review

Some albums just demand to be heard on vinyl. It seems the only fitting and natural way to listen to them, you know? Such is the case with the three volumes of Chicago/The Blues/Today!, originally released in 1966. The first volume is now being re-issued on 180-gram vinyl by Craft Recordings. It contains tracks from three artists – The Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band, J.B. Hutto And His Hawks, and Otis Spann’s South Side Piano. Yes, some of the best mid-1960s Chicago blues. And the music sounds just exactly right on this new vinyl issue. It features an all-analog mastering from the original stereo tapes. Each artist gets five tracks on this record.

Side One

The album opens with music from The Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band, beginning with a track titled “A Tribute To Sonny Boy Williamson.” Interestingly, this track begins with a spoken word introduction, in which he says he wants to pay tribute to an outstanding musician. “It’s a number that he made that I think that will linger in your hearts forever.” The song he covers is “Help Me.” And it has a sound that is exactly what you think of when you think of Chicago blues. And of course it features some delicious work on harmonica. In the middle of the track he adds another spoken word section, saying that he was one of Sonny Boy Williamson’s students. It is a personal and wonderful rendition. “Goodbye, old man, goodbye,” he says toward the end. Sonny Boy Williamson died in 1965. The Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band is made up of Junior Wells on harmonica and vocals, Buddy Guy on guitar, Jack Myers on bass, and Fred Below on drums. “A Tribute To Sonny Boy Williamson” is followed by a fantastic rendition of “It Hurts Me Too.” Just listen to that bass line. This is a song I first heard done by Chuck Berry on a cassette I had when I was a kid, and loved it immediately. Then I heard several recordings of the Grateful Dead covering it. But the version on this compilation might be the best I’ve heard. It features more excellent work on harmonica, plus some cool stuff on guitar and a passionate vocal performance.

It is on “Messin’ With The Kid” that the band really cuts loose and has some fun. Check out that vocal performance. This song has a catchy rhythm, one to get you sharking and grooving. And yes, there is another good lead on harmonica. They then slow things down with “Vietcong Blues.” This is one of many blues songs that open with a variation of the line “I woke up this morning,” in this case “I woke up early this morning.” Interestingly, later in the song he sings, “You wake up early in the morning, baby,” the song shifting to another person who is struggling. “You might not have no respect for your country, darling/But that’s why, that’s why I’m singing these blues.” This track features some excellent work on guitar, which should come as no surprise. After all, it is Buddy Guy. “How would you feel if it was your brother over there, huh? /How would you feel?” The final track from The Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band is “All Night Song,” which has a familiar blues rhythm and features some fantastic and fun work on guitar. “Lord, you just don’t know how good, baby, just how good you make me feel.”

The first side concludes with two tracks from J.B. Hutto And His Hawks. The first is “Going Ahead,” and immediately that guitar takes charge, sounding so good. J.B. Hutto And His Hawks are made up of J.B. Hutto on guitar and vocals, Herman Hassell on bass, and Frank Kirkland on drums. “Down on my knees I beg/Baby, I want you to help me if you please.” It is interesting that in several of these songs the singer is seeking help. This side opened with a call for help, and it likewise ends with one, “Please Help.” This song moves at a good clip, immediately giving us the sense of motion, of a train or car. So the opening line comes as a surprise: “Well, I couldn’t do nothing but stand on that road and cry.” This track is a whole lot of fun. At one point, J.B. Hutto repeatedly calls out “Help.” Oh yes, we could all use some help.

Side Two

The second side of the record continues with three more tracks from J.B. Hutto And His Hawks, starting with “Too Much Alcohol,” a totally enjoyable tune. I love how earnest he is about trying to just get himself a drink. Also, this is one of those blues numbers where the singer calls himself out by name: “My baby said, hey J.B., J.B. you ain’t no good at all.” That’s followed by “Married Woman Blues,” a slower gem with a powerful vocal performance. You can hear the pain and angst as he sings, “Yeah, you ask me how I feel, baby/How would you feel when you just lost your girl/Yes, she’s a married woman/But she’s the only thing I ever loved in this world,” lines near the beginning of the song. The guitar work on this track is phenomenal. What is interesting and great is that it does not overpower the vocals, the lyrics remaining the focus. The final of the J.B. Hutto tracks is “That’s The Truth,” a tune with a lot more movement to it. I dig that rhythm. This is blues that makes you feel good, and that’s the truth.

Then we get into the Otis Spann’s South Side Piano tracks. Otis Spann was the pianist in Muddy Waters’ band, and here he is backed only by S.P. Leary on drums. Leary played drums in Muddy Waters’ band. The first of Otis Spann’s tracks is “Marie,” an instrumental number that is great fun. It feels like a blues party, one you want to take from the clubs and bar rooms out into the streets until the whole world is grooving. I still think music has the power to put an end to violence and hatred. He then slows this down with “Burning Fire,” a sexy and delicious love song. Check out these lines: “I’d walk through a blaze of fire, baby/If I’d known you was on the other side/Just to put my arms around you/Baby, to keep my love alive.” This track features some fantastic stuff on piano. Does he cough at one point? Well, that works, you know, if he walked through fire and smoke. This song ends with him waiting for his love to call him. It is an incredibly cool track.

“S.P Blues” is another cool tune, this one an instrumental featuring some great stuff on drums. This one has a kind of playful mood. That’s followed by “Sometime I Wonder,” another slower blues gem, with some delicious work on piano. This music is just so good, the perfect thing to help lift my own personal blues while I have been isolated with COVID. “If I don’t go crazy, baby/Little girl, I’m gonna lose my mind/I’m in love with you, woman/Keep me bothered all the time.” The album concludes with a completely fun instrumental tune titled “Spann’s Stomp,” just the thing to help us all shake our remaining cares away.

Record Track List

Side One

  1. A Tribute To Sonny Boy Williamson
  2. It Hurts Me Too
  3. Messin’ With The Kid
  4. Vietcong Blues
  5. All Night Long
  6. Going Ahead
  7. Please Help

Side Two

  1. Too Much Alcohol
  2. Married Woman Blues
  3. That’s The Truth
  4. Marie
  5. Burning Fire
  6. S.P. Blues
  7. Sometime I Wonder
  8. Spann’s Stomp

This special vinyl re-issue of Chicago/The Blues/Today! Vol. 1 is scheduled to be released on September 16, 2022 through Craft Recordings. My copy is on black vinyl, but I see that on the Craft Recordings website an olive vinyl rendition is also available.

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