"Keeping the Blues Alive Award" Achievement for Blues on the Internet Presented by The Blues Foundation
As much as mystery seems to attach itself to blues, it should come as little surprise that Mad Dog Lester Davenport and Jimmy Dawkins both grew up in Tchula, MS, in the 1930's, but never met until the late 1960's, long after settling in Chicago. Davenport has been something of an enigma even though he's been a resident of the Windy City since the 1940's, and while he played with Otis "Big Smokey" Smothers and Arthur "Big Boy" Spires in the 1950's, he's had far too little in the way of opportunities to reach a wider audience. He supplied the harmonica to one Bo Diddley session in 1955, but there's been very little of him since outside of a project for the Earwig label in 1991, unless you happened to catch him while he was holding the harp slot for the Kinsey Report. His new and rewarding I Smell A Rat, finds him in the company of Jimmy Dawkins and Billy Flynn on guitars, while piano duties are split between Detroit Junior and Allen Batts, and Bob Stroger handles bass chores along with Sho Komiya, as Jimi Schutte tackles the drums. Davenport's harp certainly has the influence of Little Walter and other Chicago greats, although there's a bit more of a rough edge to his playing, but his tone is as thick as motor oil. The grooves here run the range one might expect from a Chicago harp powerhouse; grinding shuffles, gritty slow blues, and a few Wolf-like rockers. Dawkins, who also produced the sessions, is more reserved than on his own efforts and while he definitely generates some spark when he steps forward, his playing is less frenetic and more in-the-pocket. Two driving instrumentals, West Side Blues Harp and To Our Lost Ones 9/11/01 offer plenty of smoldering diatonic harmonica and Lester lays on the chromatic grease for Stop Beggin' Me, but he seems just as comfortable during the handful of in-the-alley burners; Knocked On Every Door, Miss Sallie Mae, So Long, and the blistering My Mama Rocks Me, with fiery Dawkins guitar and gutter-fused harp. While not the most gut-wrenching vocalist in Chicago, Davenport's blue-collar voice is pleasing and well-suited to his instrument, which both seem to flow seamlessly in and out of each other. Stellar support from the rhythm section is respectful and rewarding in every way, and there's no hint of grandstanding from Dawkins or Flynn, and it's sure nice to see Detroit Junior still playing drilling piano figures. Take a trip to the West Side of Chicago with Mad Dog Lester Davenport - I Smell A Rat is a lowdown blowdown. www.delmark.com. 13 tracks, 64 minutes.
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