Thursday, September 24, 2009

Muddy Waters and Paul Butterfield

It All Comes Back and Better Days.Two great blues records by the best white blues harmonica player ever, in my qualified view, Paul Butterfield. I spent dozens of hours breaking down and learning his harmonica work on "Broke My Baby's Heart" and "New Walking Blues". Wonderful, wonderful blues playing, with perhaps the best band he ever formed. If you haven't already, check out the obscure Muddy Waters Woodstock Album. The album is a revelation, as it has Waters stepping a few steps back from the rocking , Chicago style back beat, raw and blistering in a fashion only genius can achieve, and here taking up a swing upbeat. Save for the rumblings of Waters' voice, always a place of deep echo and lean-close innuendo, some of these tracks would fit in well with the suited urbanity of B.B.King. It is a gem alright, a rousing, spirited transitional session placing Waters beyond his stylistic comfort zone. But not too far. Pinetop Perkins provides a bright piano throughout, and former Band utility musician Garth Hudson is a triple threat here on organ, saxophone and accordion; his accordion work, surprisingly, is a wonderful blues instrument, as can be heard on the sturdy workouts on "Going Down to Main Street","Caldonia".

Whatever jokes the instrument and it's players have suffered at the hands of one comedians over the decades abates somewhat with Hudson's finely fingered boogie and sparkling fills. What caught my ear was the harmonica playing of the late Paul Butterfield; perhaps among the handful of truly important blues harpists , his playing here equals his best efforts. Punchy, fleet, gutty and clean in the same breath, Butterfield demonstrates his mastery of tone and phrase, combining a moaning raunchiness and inspiring single-note runs for maximum effect. Butterfield fans ought to acquire this disc straight away; it's an essential addition to your harmonica player collection. This is a terrific addition his previous collaboration with Waters, the stomping Fathers and Sons. For Waters, he is relaxed, at ease, in full command of his singularly masterful voice; within that limited range he can raise the voice to it's breaking point , emphasizing a point, highlighting a hurt, suggesting a rebellion against what brings him down, and then slide to the lowest corner of his range and provide the gritty realism that is his hallmark as a blues artist.

One is also served a generous portion of Waters' slide guitar work, a perfect compliment to Bob Margolin's stinging bends and blurs; Waters touch is sure and spare, producing a thin, nervous, clear line . It is a wonderful texture in a full bodied, hard swinging band. A battler, a lover, a philosopher of the hard road, never with self pity, never without wit.