Big Joe Louis and His Blues Kings regularly feature in the British Blues Awards nominations, and "Big Sixteen" shows just why. It's a prime example of all that's good about British Blues. The sound and atmosphere is classic Chess era, although the musical style owes as much to the Delta and to Memphis (early rock 'n' roll) as it does to Chicago. The musicianship throughout is top drawer, and the vocals are outstanding. Jamaican born Louis, who handles most of the vocal chores himself, has a big booming voice, in the Howling Wolf mold, whilst harp player Little George Sueref, in contrast, often sings falsetto.
Although "Big Sixteen" was issued in 1996, the band have been kept busy in the meantime, backing visiting US Blues artists, and touring in their own right. Fourteen of the sixteen tracks are originals and there are several gems among them. The two cover versions are both well known songs (Jimmy Mullen and Johnny Vincent's "Rock 'n' Roll Baby", and Robert Petway's "Catfish"), otherwise you would be hard pushed to distinguish them from the originals.
The tracks that stand out most are the opening "She Was All The World To Me," which sets the sound for the rest of the album. That's immediately followed by "Back Door Slam," which, as the title suggests, is about an adulterous wife. My personal favorite, though, is the relaxing laid back "Down Jamaica Way" in which Joe hankers for the heat of his native Jamaica as a respite from the British winter. This is followed by two more belters: the Wolf-like "I Can Tell," which contains the classic Blues couplet "I can look through muddy water / And spy dry land" and is all about seeing the writing on the wall in a relationship. The single, "Wine Head," which has beat like Washboard Sam's "Diggin' My Potatoes" completes the trio. Best track title, and a possible contender for best Blues song title of the millennium is "I Took Care Of My Homework (But Jody Got My Girl and Gone)", another classic Blues tale of a wife walking out.
"Big Sixteen" shows that Big Joe Louis and His Blues Kings are right up there in the top echelon of British Blues, which is currently enjoying a resurgence. File this one alongside the other contemporary British Blues CDs in your collection (Eddie Martin Band: "Fires and Floods"; Sonny Black and the Dukes: "Free Spirit," anything by Paul Lamb and the Kingsnakes, and so on).
Ace Records: www.acerecords.co.uk
Big Joe Louis: home.swipnet.se/~w-53855
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.