"Back to Back," the third recording that Lynwood Slim and Junior Watson have made together, is testament to a partnership that clicks. Add in the rhythm section from Hollywood Fats' band: Larry Taylor on bass, Richard Innes on drums, and Fred Kaplan on piano, and you know you should be in for some quality Blues. Thankfully "Back to Back" doesn't disappoint.
Slim and Watson take it in turn to lead from the front; Slim takes the odd numbered tracks, Watson the even numbered ones. Slim's vocals are very clear cut and polished, and perfectly suited to the West Coast style, whether it be on Roy Milton's "Best Wishes," which reminds me of Charles Brown, or the swinging version of Willie Dixon's "Too Late." In contrast, Watson, has a laid back lazy voice which simply adds to the retro atmosphere on his tracks. Couple that with his infamous reverb guitar sound and you may think that the result would be somewhat anachronistic. That it doesn't is testimony to the way that the band can bring a new sense of vitality to older material.
All of the tracks may be covers, but "Back to Back" is no mere set of Blues "standards." The selection is varied and interesting. Take, for example, Brother Jack McDuff's "Tough Duff" where Slim plays flute--how many Blues tunes do you know that feature flute?--and Earl Hooker's "Happy Blues" which just features guitar and drums. The latter track gives you some idea why Junior Watson is so highly regarded as a guitarist. This is the man who was largely responsible for the marriage of West Coast swing with Chicago Blues. Given that he formed the Mighty Flyers with Rod Piazza, it's no surprise to find that stylistically there is much in common between "Back to Back" and Piazza's recordings. Current Flyers' guitarist Rick Holmstrom guests on four of the 12 tracks here, as if to emphasize the point.
"Back to Back" is another prime example of how well Chicago and West Coast Blues--both swing and sophisticated--can be blended together. This is the sort of music that should have almost universal appeal to Blues lovers everywhere. Yet another album to add to the growing list of very good Blues albums put out by the German Crosscut label.
Crosscut: www.crosscut.de (Coming real soon now!)
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.