New Releases

The Essential Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

Cry Me a River and More

Aaron Neville

Early Recordings

Aaron Neville

Barrelhouse Stomp

Chris James

Blues Shock

Billy Branch

Groovin´ The Blues

De Dos En Blues

Stormy Monday

Fenton Robinson

Down in the Basement

Big Bill Broonzy

I'd Give You Anything If I Could

Harmonica Hinds

Live in La Veta, Vol. 1

Ken Saydak

Sonic Soul Sessions

Terry Davidson & the Gears

Top Albums

The Definitive Collection

Howlin' Wolf
At six foot three and 270 pounds, Chester Burnett was a bear of a man, but his voice, rough and harsh as broken Delta glass, was what really gave him dimension. A powerful blues shouter out of the Charley Patton mold, Burnett (or Howlin' Wolf, as he came to be known) brought a feral fire to his vocals that made him sound like a gale force hurricane in front of the microphone. But he was far from a loose cannon. He had remarkable control over that voice, as the first track from this wonderful collection of his classic Chess sides makes clear. "Moanin' at Midnight," recorded in 1958 for Sam Phillips (Phillips promptly sold the master to Chicago's Chess Records), is nothing more than an amped-up and electrified field holler, but Wolf's subtle, wordless vocal phrasing makes it carry enough pain, suffering, pride, desperation, and resignation to fill the world to breaking, all in a single rocking performance that hits like a brick to the head. The Chess brothers recorded Wolf frequently in the next dozen or so years, wisely pairing him with guitarist Hubert Sumlin and bassist/songwriter Willie Dixon more often than not, and Wolf's output for the label between 1958 and 1964 forms the core of one of the greatest legacies in the history of the blues. All of his key Chess singles are here, including "Smokestack Lightning," his redefinitions of the Mississippi Sheiks' "Sittin' on Top of the World" and Skip James' "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" (reborn as "Killing Floor" in Wolf's hands), and his signature versions of Dixon's "Backdoor Man," "Spoonful," "The Red Rooster," and "I Ain't Superstitious," making this set a marvelous introduction to one of the most powerful voices in recorded history. What you need to hear is here. [The Definitive Collection contains the same tracks as the 1997 MCA release His Best].

Steve Leggett, Rovi

Living Proof

Buddy Guy
Living Proof was designed partially as an aural autobiography from the legendary Buddy Guy, opening up with the stark summation “74 Years Young,” then running through songs that often address some aspect of a working musician's life. It’s not a concept that’s followed through completely -- it’s thrown off track somewhat by duets with B.B. King and Carlos Santana, with the latter’s soft groove sticking out tonally as well -- but it’s enough of a narrative to give the record a definitive shape that some latter-day Guy albums are lacking. Still, the selling point of Living Proof remains Guy’s guitar, an instrument that improbably gets louder, nastier, and gnarlier with each passing year. Like Skin Deep before it, Living Proof is distinguished by these bold, clenched blasts of sonic fury, but here the production has just enough grit to make the entire enterprise feel feral, and that’s a greater testament to Guy's enduring vitality than any one song could ever be.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

His Best

Little Walter
As MCA reconfigures their Chess catalog, this 20-track single-disc compilation now takes the place of their original 12-track Best of Little Walter collection, a landmark blues album which had remained in print for over three decades. His Best (Chess 50th Anniversary Collection) reprises ten of those seminal tracks (leaving off the echoey "Blue Light" and "You Better Watch Yourself," the latter being available on the two-disc anthology The Essential Little Walter) and brings ten others cherry-picked from the catalog to the mix. If you've never experienced the innovative instrumental genius of Little Walter, classics like "Juke," "Off the Wall," "Mean Old World," "Sad Hours," "Blues with a Feeling," "My Babe," "Boom Out Goes the Light," "Last Night," "Mellow Down Easy" and "Roller Coaster" (written by Bo Diddley, who also guests on guitar) will come as a major revelation. These are the recordings that changed the sound and style of blues harmonica forever, and everyone who came after him was as influenced by him as jazz saxophonists were by Charlie Parker. Everyone who fancies themselves a blues harmonica player should have this one in their collection as a textbook instructional tool, while the rest of us can just bask in the glow of his genius. "Essential first purchase" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Cub Koda, Rovi

Fifty Favourites

Muddy Waters

Can't Quit The Blues

Buddy Guy
Legend status came late to Buddy Guy, so it shouldn't be surprising that this is the first box set devoted to the blues giant's work. Yet it is still a bit of a shock, because Guy, it seems, has always been a part of the modern blues scene, ubiquitous even in the late '60s at the era's high-profile rock and folk festivals, playing the hippie ballrooms alongside the major rockers of the day, and being name-dropped by the likes of Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. So this three-CD/one-DVD collection arrives years after it might have, its audio discs stacked with 47 prime samplings of Guy's sizzling guitar work and passionate wailing, covering nearly 50 years' worth of music. That said, those looking for an evenly balanced career overview may ultimately be disappointed: two of the three CDs are drawn from recordings made during Guy's comeback years of the 1990s to the present, after he signed to the Silvertone label (he hadn't recorded in nearly a decade prior to that point), leaving only the first disc devoted to Guy's influential recordings for such labels as Delmark, Vanguard, Artistic, Alligator, JSP, and, most importantly, Chess Records, where -- although he felt stifled by the label's insistence that he soften his lethal attack -- he cut some classic sides working alongside such blues titans as Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, and Junior Wells, the harmonica genius with whom Guy would share stages for many years. That first disc is crammed with classic blues moments -- from the first track, 1957's "The Way You Been Treating Me," Guy is burning, and as he settles into his trademark stinging guitar style and belted-out, passionate vocalizing, leaving behind some of the more derivative aspects of his early playing and singing, it becomes quickly apparent that he was meant to become one of the genre's most influential artists. "I Can't Quit the Blues," from 1968, is a soul blaster par excellence, and by the early '70s, rock luminaries such as Clapton and Bill Wyman of the Stones were lining up to play on his records. Guy's Grammy-winning 1991 debut for Silvertone, Damn Right, I've Got the Blues, marks the onset of his rightful ascendance to blues royalty, and though excessive attention is arguably paid to this period of his career, there is no denying that some of his best music has been made during these years. In particular, tracks from the rootsy 2001 Sweet Tea are as good as anything he'd done before, and even the all-star affairs -- among them "Crawlin' Kingsnake," cut in 2003 with Clapton, B.B. King, Jim Keltner, and others aboard, and 2005's "The Price You Gotta Pay," featuring Keb' Mo', Keith Richards, and others -- find Guy still in tip-top shape. The DVD features a 90-minute documentary and rare live footage, including six full performances from the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival. Ideally this collection (which includes six previously unreleased tracks) would have benefited from a fourth disc expanding upon the pre-Silvertone years, but it's hard to argue with something that's been so long overdue and, despite its lopsided emphasis on the recent output, delivers so much.

His Best (The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection)

Bo Diddley
With Bo Diddley's various hits and anthology packages all out of print and the multi-disc deluxe box set out of pocketbook reach for most casual consumers, MCA finally comes up with a 20-track compilation that hits the bull's-eye and makes this rock pioneer's best and most influential work available to everyone. The song list reads like a primer for '60s British R&B and '90s blues bands: "Bo Diddley," "I'm a Man," "Diddley Daddy," "Pretty Thing," "Before You Accuse Me," "Hey! Bo Diddley," "Who Do You Love," "Mona," and "Roadrunner" are the tracks that made the legend and put his sound on the map worldwide. The transfers used on this set are exemplary, the majority of them utilizing masters that have a few extra seconds (or more) appended to the fades, which will cause even hardliners to hear these old standards with fresh ears; especially revelatory are the "long versions" of "I Can Tell" and "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover." If the box set is too big a trigger to pull and you want all of Bo's influential sides in one package, this one should be first-stop shopping of the highest priority.

Cub Koda, Rovi

Moanin' In The Moonlight

Howlin' Wolf

Fast Fingers

Jimmy Dawkins
First released in 1969, after guitarist Jimmy Dawkins had served a long apprenticeship as a sideman in the Chicago electric blues scene, Fast Fingers remains one of the finest pure electric blues albums of its era. Dawkins proves to be a solid songwriter and an able singer, although the best moments on the album invariably come when he tears off a casually perfect, deeply soulful, but never showy electric solo. Highlights include the stomping instrumental "Triple Trebles," featuring an outstanding Dawkins solo over a funky horn-driven rhythm, and the mellow, laid-back opener, "It Serves Me Right to Suffer." The album was finally reissued on CD in 1998 with a new cover and two fine outtakes from the original sessions, "Sad and Blues" (which features an exceptional extended solo by Dawkins) and "Back Home Blues," which is a 1969 recording with a new (1998) vocal by Dawkins.

Stewart Mason, Rovi

Damn Right, I've Got The Blues

Buddy Guy
Grammy-winning comeback set that brought Buddy Guy back to prominence after a long studio hiatus. Too many clichéd cover choices -- "Five Long Years," "Mustang Sally," "Black Night," "There Is Something on Your Mind" -- to earn unreserved recommendation, but Guy's frenetic guitar histrionics ably cut through the superstar-heavy proceedings (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Mark Knopfler all turn up) on the snarling title cut and a handful of others. [Damn Right, I've Got the Blues was reissued as an expanded edition in 2003, containing two bonus tracks: "Doin' What I Like Best" and "Trouble Don't Last."]

Bill Dahl, Rovi

Deluxe Edition

Koko Taylor
While some fans may argue that Koko Taylor's Chess material is slightly superior, there is no denying the power of these Alligator sessions. Deluxe Edition collects 15 of her very best tracks from her Alligator releases since 1975. Some of the high points include the many guest spots from Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins, Mighty Joe Young, and Carey Bell. As a Deluxe Edition bonus, the unreleased track "Man Size Job" is included, making this collection hard to beat for both collectors and the novice.

Al Campbell, Rovi

The Chess Box

Howlin' Wolf

The Chess Box

Willie Dixon
This was the most unusual, and probably the most difficult to assemble of MCA's Chess Box series, mostly because of the unusual nature of Willie Dixon's contribution to Chess Records. To be sure, Dixon rates a place in the history of the label right alongside that of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter, but his role was more subtle than that of a performer (indeed, two of the half-dozen recordings here that feature Dixon as a singer were previously unreleased). So he is all over this two-CD set, as a songwriter, producer, and bassist, and occasionally as a singer as well, but the unifying element are the Dixon songs, and he is the only blues songwriter to be honored by a major label with a retrospective of this type. Since he was not the performer on most of this material, but, rather, was working to mesh his material with the styles and sensibilities of a vast range of players, the sounds contained on these two CDs are a lot more varied than on any of the other Chess Box releases -- amplified Delta blues, big band, Mills Brothers-style harmony blues, jazz-influenced jump blues, and near-pop style R&B are all here; guitar pyrotechnics by Muddy Waters or Hubert Sumlin (on the Wolf's records), vocal acrobatics by Little Walter, and rippling performances by Koko Taylor illuminate this set throughout. While some of it, such as Muddy Waters' single of "Hoochie Coochie Man"; Little Walter's "My Babe"; Howlin' Wolf's performances of "Evil," "Spoonful," "Little Red Rooster," and "Back Door Man"; and Lowell Fulson's version of "Do Me Right" are easily available elsewhere, a lot else of what's here is genuinely rare and most enticing -- Dixon's own renditions of "Violent Love," "Crazy For My Baby," and "Pain In My Heart," in particular, are great records, lacking perhaps only a slight measure of the energy that a Muddy Waters brought to recording. Most of the set is concentrated on his blues work -- a pair of hot Bo Diddley sides ("Pretty Thing," "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover") that Dixon wrote are represented, but since he didn't write anything for Chuck Berry, that side of Dixon's history is left out, despite his having played bass on most of Berry's early recordings. Still, it's difficult to imagine anyone complaining over an "excuse" to bring some of the best sides of Muddy, Walter, the Wolf, Diddley, Taylor, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Rush, and even Dixon's own '40s outfit, the Big Three together in one release. The sound is impeccable, holding up to standards even a dozen years later, and the set includes a well-illustrated and annotated booklet.

Bruce Eder, Rovi

That's Big!

Little Charlie & The Nightcats
Although founders Little Charlie Baty and harpist/singer/songwriter Rick Estrin welcome two new cats on bass and drums, little else has changed on Little Charlie & the Nightcats' eighth studio effort, again on Alligator, the only label they have recorded for. While that could be a problem for some outfits, the music here is so perfectly conceived, well-written, and performed with cracking musicianship that only the grouchiest blues purist will complain they aren't breaking much new ground. Estrin's slimy, woman-distrusting, often comical delivery on his compositions -- such as "Desperate Man," "Livin' Good," and a duet with the equally non-PC West Coast singer/harp player James Harman trading quips on the title track -- make for a lighthearted listening experience. But clearly these guys can also play; Baty and guest guitarist Rusty Zinn's dueling hollow-body guitars on "Bluto's Back" and Estrin's chromatic harp solo on "Coastin' Hank" (two of the disc's three instrumentals) prove that the group's chops are as finely tuned as their ability to cut up and add a dose of levity to the usually ultra-serious blues. The occasional use of horns on four tracks injects a jazzy R&B sensibility to the proceedings and fills out the sound. Zinn's vocal on "It Better Get Better" also takes the focus off Estrin, whose schtick starts to wear thin by the 12th track -- the album's lone cover -- a version of "Steady Rollin' Man," credited to Sonny Boy Williamson ll, who wrote these particular lyrics, not Robert Johnson. The group's roots in Louis Jordan's swinging jump blues are showcased in "Money Must Think I'm Dead" and even new drummer Joey Ventittelli gets a songwriting credit on the Chicago blues of the album's kickoff track, "Real Love," which features some lip-shredding, overdriven, electrified harp from Estrin. Established fans will rejoice in this exceptional release that treads water in all the right ways, and newcomers can start here to appreciate Little Charlie & the Nightcats' charming, unorthodox yet dedicated approach to the blues.

Hal Horowitz, Rovi

In The Shadow Of The City

Maurice John Vaughn
The Chicago guitarist/saxist spreads his stylistic wings considerably further than he did on his debut, embracing funk more fully than his first time around but offering enough tasty contemporary blues to keep everyone happy. The prolific triple threat (he's also an engaging singer) wrote all but three tracks himself (one of the covers is the shuffling "Small Town Baby"; its composer, veteran pianist Jimmy Walker, plays on the cut).

Bill Dahl, Rovi

Blues On the Run (Blues Power)

Melvin Taylor
Melvin Taylor may run a little long at times on his Blues on the Run, but that gives him the opportunity to dazzle with the full scope of his chops. He can play Chicago blues as gritty as anyone, but he can also rock hard and has enough sensitivity for jazz. Hearing him run through all these styles is a little dizzying, however, especially since he doesn't know when to let a little space into the music. Nevertheless, the record functions as an effective showcase for his talents.

Thom Owens, Rovi

Chicago Bound

Jimmy Rogers
Starkly printed in black and white with washed-out, grainy photographs, this is one heavy slab of blues by a player who is not as well-known as he should be. Guitarist Jimmy Rogers was usually overshadowed by the leaders he worked for, Muddy Waters particularly. He was also sometimes confused with the hillbilly singer Jimmie Rodgers, and although they might have sounded good together, they don't have anything in common. This reissue collection grabs 14 tracks done at various times in the mostly early '50s which involve practically a who's who of performers associated with the most intense and driving Chicago blues. This includes the aforementioned Waters, leaving behind his role as leader for a few numbers to add some stinging guitar parts. There is also a pair of harmonica players, each of whom could melt vinyl siding with their playing. These are the Walters, big and little, as in Big Walter Horton and Little Walter. Pianist Otis Spann, bassist Willie Dixon, and drummer Fred Belew are also on hand, meaning the rhythm section action is first class. Blues listeners who have only skimmed the surface of the music may not have really discovered Rogers, as his reputation increased in the years after his death and he had nowhere near the following and status of Waters or even Little Walter. Some of the tracks here are numbers the musicians got together and played with Rogers at the end of what was probably an already grueling session by Waters. "Sloppy Drunk" is a killer track that joins the long list of great blues numbers concerning the inebriated, while "Walking by Myself" is a fine example of the kind of shuffling rhythm these players are so good at. The CD era was an opportunity to put together larger selections of Rogers' material, complete with outtakes and selections that are much rarer than the material here. If a listener's reaction to this album is as positive as it ought to be, they can be assured the pickings will be equally tasty if they decide to go for more extensive documentation of this artist.

Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi

In My Time…

Charlie Musselwhite
Charlie Musselwhite takes four different approaches on this Alligator release. On two tracks, he turns to guitar, proving a competent instrumentalist and convincing singer in a vintage Delta style. He also does two gospel numbers backed by the legendary Blind Boys of Alabama, which are heartfelt, but not exactly triumphs. Musselwhite reveals his jazz influence on three tracks, making them entertaining harmonica workouts. But for blues fans, Musselwhite's biting licks and spiraling riffs are best featured on such numbers as "If I Should Have Bad Luck" and "Leaving Blues." Despite the diverse strains, Musselwhite retains credibility throughout while displaying the wide range of sources from which he's forged his distinctive style.

Ron Wynn, Rovi

Steelyard Blues Soundtrack

Steelyard Blues
A tremendous soundtrack album to director Alan Myerson's film Steelyard Blues, which starred Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Peter Boyle, this collection feels like a side project collaboration between the Electric Flag and Paul Butterfield Blues Band with added performances by Maria Muldaur and Merl Saunders. The majority of the material is written and performed by the great Nick Gravenites and Mike Bloomfield, the 14 songs really standing up on their own as a work not dependent on the film and not feeling like they are mere chess pieces to supplement a Hollywood flick. Gravenites does a masterful job of producing, with "Common Ground" resembling a great lost Electric Flag song -- Annie Sampson trading off on the vocals with Gravenites as Janis Joplin did with him on In Concert. Muldaur co-wrote "Georgia Blues" with Bloomfield and Gravenites, while they gave Muldaur and Saunders the opportunity to contribute a tune by including their "Do I Care." "My Bag (The Oysters)" adds some pop/doo wop to the affair, a nice twist, and it borders on parody. Gravenites is always able to juggle his serious side with a tongue-in-cheek wink, and this interesting and enjoyable effort deserved much wider play.

Joe Viglione, Rovi

Top Songs

Mustang Sally

Buddy Guy

Smokestack Lightnin'

Howlin' Wolf

My Babe (Single Version)

Little Walter

Im Your Hoochie Coochie Man

Muddy Waters

Mannish Boy

Muddy Waters

Damn Right, I've Got The Blues

Buddy Guy

Iko Iko

The Dixie Cups

Feels Like Rain

Buddy Guy

Fooled Around And Fell In Love

Elvin Bishop

I'm A Woman

Koko Taylor

Little Red Rooster

Otis Rush

Spoonful (Single Version)

Howlin' Wolf

Muddy Water Blues (Electric Version)

Paul Rodgers

Wang Dang Doodle (Single Version)

Howlin' Wolf

I Just Want To Make Love To You

Paul Rodgers

Luther's Blues

Luther Allison

Wang Dang Doodle

Koko Taylor

Snatch It Back And Hold It

Junior Wells

Hound Dog

Junior Wells

Midnight Train

Buddy Guy featuring Johnny Lang

Turning Point

Mighty Joe Young

Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley

Goin' to Mississippi

Magic Slim

I'm A Man Blues Key Of E

Matthews and Maz