The continuation of vault mining from Chicago's Chess label has produced a plethora of issues, and this Sonny Boy Williamson release is as valid as anything else on the label. Originally marketed as two separate albums, released in 1966 and '67, Sonny Boy was already gone and in his grave. Had he lived to see them marketed, he'd have been pleased, but might have questioned the odd titles. Following the re-discovery of artists like Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, and other legends in the blues field, an interest in the early styles was found among large groups of folk fans, and Chess Records, attempting to cash in on that demographic, launched its "Folk Blues" series, although the recordings were, for the most part, anything but folk-related. Everything was the recognized electric blues the label was known for throughout the 1950's, riveting Chicago Blues. This ploy took an artist's blues, recorded at earlier sessions, which were then compiled for a long-playing record. This is just that, 24 sides cut between 1957 and 1964 featuring the Chess stable of stalwart musicians which boasted the talents of Otis Spann, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Luther Tucker, Willie Dixon, Fred Below, and many others.
While there is nothing here in the way of unissued, alternate takes, or exceptionally rare offerings, each of the two-dozen tracks is a worthwhile journey for the senses, and Sonny Boy Williamson knew how to raise the level of interest as one of the finest songwriters ever to craft originals. From the stumbling intro of "One Way Out," which finds Sonny Boy trying to make a hasty exit through an open window, through the closing, stuttered vocal in "Somebody Help Me," where he makes an honest plea for help in getting his woman back, Williamson ran the gamut from waxing prophetic in "Too Old To Think," to the downright ridiculous in "Peach Tree," with its hardly disguised double-meaning. Either telling his woman to "Stop Right Now," or recalling a lost love in "Decoration Day," or the "Down Child" who talked of being "Too Young To Die," his lyrical beauty can still amaze and inspire. From "The Goat" who escaped the Supreme Court, to the weary, old-timer in "My Younger Days," to the loudly amplified "Dissatisfied" man who was "Checkin' Up On My Baby," or the blistering cold of "Nine Below Zero" to the absolute warmth in "Trust My Baby," Sonny Boy Williamson's music has the innate ability to bring any listener into his world through a highly visual writing style. Other gems resting comfortably in this set are the classic "Bring It On Home," the hilarious nature of "The Hunt," a stark and gripping "She's My Baby," the gold nugget of "Help Me," or the sincere "Trying To Get Back On My Feet." All show an earthy quality that other artists have tried capture, though few have managed it., Aleck "Rice" Miller was purely one-of-a-kind and the proof resides here; perfection can't be improved.
At 65 minutes with incredible audio, every track is remarkable. Whether blowing harp in his usual manner of using the vocal microphone, or using an amplifier which offered a deeper richness to his tone, his work was always steady and controlled. If you're just starting a Sonny Boy Williamson collection, this is a prime jumping off point, and if you're a grizzled veteran of blues, you may have one or both of the old LP's, but this is a perfect addition to the shelves. Mark Humphrey's liner notes are solidly written and sit nicely alongside the original musings from the two 1960's versions and session details list all personnel present and playing. This is comic wit laced with old-man wisdom, filled with humorous twists and disturbing turns, all dished out by a writing genius who mastered the art of blues harmonica as well. www.universalchronicles.com ... Highly recommended!
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