It’s a no-brainer, really. Assemble a crack band consisting of a legendary rhythm section (bassist Calvin “Fuzz” Jones and drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, both of whom played integral roles in Muddy’s late-career resurgence). Add the world’s greatest living practitioner of Chicago-style harmonica, Kim Wilson, along with guitarists Joel Foy (who’s worked with James Harman and the late William Clarke) and Eddie Taylor Jr. (son of one of the music’s founding fathers). And anchor it all with stellar piano work by Barrelhouse Chuck, whose ongoing enthusiasm and admiration for his mentors remains undiminished …
The question, indeed, is not whether it will be good, but rather how just how great it will be …
And the answer? Absolutely brilliant!
Barrelhouse Chuck is no longer just a devoted student of the various styles that form the bedrock of blues piano. He’s now one of the world’s most polished practitioners, with a rumbling left hand to support his dazzling dexterity in the upper registers. Here he leads a dream band through a program that pays tribute to the likes of Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Floyd Jones, Memphis Slim, and others of their ilk, without resorting to imitation or repetition.
Despite the timeless quality of the music – with the exception of two original instrumentals, every track hearkens back to the so-called ’golden age’ of Chicago blues – it all sounds fresh and exciting, with the requisite drive and energy that gives each tune an appropriate urgency, however casual the players approach things.
Listen, for example, to the way they all just slip into the groove of opener “Floyd’s Blues.” All the magic is there – the loose, relaxed air that masks incredibly tight ensemble work, the instinctive way Wilson’s harp weaves around the beat, the interplay of guitars working together for the greater good rather than grandstanding for glory. This is why Chicago blues endures, why the genre values wisdom and experience over youthful flash.
And that’s just the beginning. Also included are such gems as Detroit Jr.’s “Call My Job,” Otis Smothers’ title track (that borrows the classic “Help Me” groove to excellent effect), a down ‘n’ dirty take on “Mother Earth,” and the funky “Cleo’s Mood” featuring brilliantly inventive harmonica work from Wilson. Eddie Taylor’s “Big Town Playboy” is here, with Eddie Jr. doing a fine job on both guitar and vocals. Joel Foy’s “Red River Rumba” lets its composer exhibit some seriously stinging licks, while the disc’s closer, “Iza Mae,” is a sweetly innocent and old-timey-sounding piece featuring guest Gregg Rodriguez’ fiddle and mandolin, providing a surprising yet delightful end to proceedings.
If you’re a fan of classic Chicago Blues, you simply cannot go wrong with this one. Recommended without reservation …!!