Friday, 11 September 2015

"Folk Singer" by MUDDY WATERS featuring Buddy Guy on Guitar, Otis Spann on Piano, Willie Dixon on Bass and James Cotton on Harmonica (1999 MCA/Chess Expanded CD Reissue – Eric Labson Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...




"...Put Me In Your Lay Away Plan..."

Muddy Waters hadn’t seen chart action since 1958. But what was chewing up American Radio and the burgeoning live circuit in colleges and campuses across the country was a huge renewed interest in downhome Folk music as sung by their 'tell the truth' artists – people like The Kingston Trio, The Rooftop Singers and the hugely popular Peter, Paul & Mary. Against all the Pop odds (and with Dylan causing such an impact too) - these groups, these storytelling singers and custodians of history were all regularly making the top ten – and in some cases knocking on that big number one chart door on several occasions.

Being record men, part-time pimps and full-time genre hustlers - Leonard and Phil Chess thought – to hell with it – let's get Bluesman Muddy Waters in for an 'acoustic' session – get some old guy from down in the Delta who knows how to play Acoustic Slide on lead – get Willie Dixon on Bass and Clifton James on Drums to be the rhythm section and record the whole sucker cheaply in a few loose days in September 1963. So that's what they did...

Although Buddy Guy was literally cursed out by the infamous dynamic duo on the morning he arrived to do the session (both Leonard and Phil considered him 'too young' to know what to do) – Muddy insisted on his presence and once they heard his incredibly accomplished playing – the canny Jewish men cursed Buddy Guy again (but in a nice way) and the tapes started rolling. And thus the most unlikely part of Morgan McKinleyfield's career got the shot in the arm it needed and a recording/audiophile legend was born.

The January 1964 Chess album "Folk Singer" should actually read "Folk Blues" – because this is a long way from the heavy riffing of "Mannish Boy" and the loud Electric Guitar Blues of the 40s and 50s. But man oh man does it work. Deftly produced by WILLIE DIXON and RALPH BASS – "Folk Singer" has always been an Audiophile recording to me (unusual for the Blues genre of the time) and the kind of recording Mobile Fidelity have put out on 180grams reissue LP. But what sends this superb 1999 CD reissue into the stratosphere is not just the truly stunning ERICK LABSON Remastered sound quality - but five very cool bonus tracks which count among their numbers - what I feel are his best ever sides. "The Same Thing" and "You Can't Lose What You Never Had" are the A&B of Chess 1895 from May 1964 – a genius combo with "You Can’t Always..." used extensively by Director Martin Scorsese on his "Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey" TV Series in 2004. And as if that's not enough – like some neglected masterpiece few seem to know exists – "Folk Singer" is on sale in some places for less than three quid! Let's say hello to little schoolgirls and big-legged women (and try not to get arrested in the mean time)...

US released July 1999 – "Folk Singer" by MUDDY WATERS on MCA/Chess CHD-12027 (Barcode 008811202729) is an Expanded CD reissue and plays out as follows (48:51 minutes):

1. My Home Is In The Delta
2. Long Distance
3. My Captain
4. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
5. You Gonna Need My Help
6. Cold Weather Blues [Side 2]
7. Big Leg Woman
8. Country Boy
9. Feel Like Going Home
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Folk Singer" – released January 1964 in the USA on Chess LP 1483 and May 1964 in the UK on Pye International NPL 28038 (Mono). All tracks feature the following four – Muddy Waters on Lead Vocals and Lead Guitar, Buddy Guy on Lead Guitar, Willie Dixon on Bass and Clifton James on Drums – except "Feel Like Going Home" which in Muddy Waters on Guitar and Vocals only.

BONUS TRACKS:
10. The Same Thing
11. You Can't Lose What You Never Had (tracks 10 and 11 are the A&B-sides of a May 1964 US 7" single on Chess 1895)
Tracks 10 and 11 recorded 9 April 1964 with Otis Spann on Piano, James "Pee Wee" Madison on Guitar, Willie Dixon on Bass and S.P. Leary on Drums.

12. My John The Conqueror Root
13. Short Dress Woman (tracks 12 and 13 are the A&B-sides of a November 1964 US 7" single on Chess 1914; track 12 previously unreleased on US LP)

14. Put Me In Your Lay Away – A-side of a May 1965 US 7" single Chess 1921. Its B-side is "Still A Fool" from 1951 - so isn’t included on this CD.
Tracks 12, 13 and 14 recorded October 1964 with J.T. Brown on Tenor sax and Clarinet, Sam Lawhorn on Guitar, James Cotton on Harmonica, Otis Spann on Piano, James "Pee Wee" Madison on Guitar, Milton Rector on Bass and S.P. Leary on Drums

The 12-page booklet features a short essay of the album's genesis and history by noted Blues Historian Mary Katherine Aldin who did Hip-O Select’s annotation for their magnificent Volume 2 of Muddy Waters' complete Chess recordings "Hoochie Coochie Man..." in 2004. Pages 7, 8 and 9 reproduce the original liner notes by Producer Ralph Bass with the remainder taken up with reissue credits. Good names like ANDY McKAIE and BETH STEMPEL have coordinated the series – but the big news is new Remastering by ERICK LABSON at Universal. His credits list runs like a who’s who of Chess artists (Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Etta James, The Dells, Rotary Connection) as well as many prestigious Rock catalogues (Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Mamas and Papas, Neil Diamond, Wishbone Ash and The Who) to name but a few. The Audio here is mindblowingly good – and I think its safe to say remains one of my favourite Blues transfers ever. The casual yet tight feeling of these sessions is part of why I play it so often – and that same gorgeous Audio applies even more to the five bonus cuts. A nice touch is that there are sepia-coloured outtake photos from the sessions beneath the see-through inlay.

The album opens with a very slow and moody "My Home Is In The Delta" followed by the equally cool "Long Distance" (both Muddy originals). The sound is amazing – the slow whack of the drum – the double bass plucked – Guy playing those beautiful little flourishes while Muddy moans and lays into that slide at appropriate moments ("...hear my phone ringing...sound like a long-distance call..."). The eerie 5:13 minutes of "My Captain" is the only Willie Dixon composition on here and is so quite at times it almost feels 'bare'. There is natural tape hiss but nothing too much to detract. What you do get is that gorgeous Buddy Guy playing which is all feel and talent. Things are livened up big time with Sonny Boy Williamson’s "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" – which along with "My Home Is In The Delta" are the two tracks represented on the "Gold" 2CD anthology. The audio is awesome on this salacious tune – boogieing out of your speakers with those drum flicks and Guy’s zippy playing.

It’s straight into funeral Blues – slow and brooding with "You're Gonna Need My Help" – the interplay between the two guitars thrilling the air every few seconds. Things drop to quiet again with another McKinleyfield original "Cold Weather Blues" – the slight echo on Muddy's whoops giving the tune a huge otherworldly chasm vibe ("...going down south people where the weather suits my cold..."). Things get physically animated in the trouser area on the witty John Temple song "Big Leg Woman" where our hero implores his ladies to "...keep your dresses down..." lest he gets too excited and goes all bulldog on their jellyrolls (yikes). His long-suffering gal has to put up with Muddy excuses like "...don't say I don’t love you because I stays out all night long..." on the beautifully simple "Country Boy”. Both it and the final nugget "Feel Like Going Home" have some of the finest playing too – guitars squeaking and groaning as the necks get worked. "Feel Like Going Home" in particular is just him and his guitar and is truly fabulous stuff...all mojo man and Blues feeling dripping off every lick and moan...

The five Bonus Tracks are all studio efforts too – singles from April and October 1964 sessions – but this time with a full band in tow. With the added visceral power the beautiful remaster gives them – the extras come as a welcome addition after all that acoustic Blues. For me the double-whammy of "The Same Thing" b/w "You Can't Lose What You Never Had" on Chess 1895 is the one of the finest examples of Chess genius. The brilliantly witty Willie Dixon A-side has Muddy chronicling the downfall of all men – the lure of a big-legged woman – while "You Can't Lose What You Never Had" is one of those stunning atmospheric B-sides you hear about but can never locate. And while the boogie of "My John The Conqueror Root" is great – the Saxophone sounds ever so slightly out of place. Better fun is another naughty "way up around her knee" tune written by Saxophonist John T. Brown called "Short Dress Woman" which has an almost New Orleans vibe going on in there – both Otis Spann on Piano and James Cotton on Harmonica playing up a blinder.


"...Put me in your lay away plan...with just a small deposit down..." - Muddy Waters sings in the last track on this fantastic "Folk Singer" expanded CD – and that sounds like damn good advice to me...

This review and hundreds more like it are part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Books Series:
Check out the e-Book for Blues, Vocals Groups, R'n'B and R'n'R available from my Author's Page at...


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