Chicago/The Blues Legends/Today!
Blues collectors will recognize the cover art work reminiscent of the Vanguard three album set, compiled by Samuel Charters and released in 1966. That project, like this one, shed light on some artists that didn’t have the reputations of Muddy or Wolf, who later went on to become legends; James Cotton, Otis Rush, Otis Spann and Junior Wells to name several. This is one disc and as such features fewer artists, each doing multiple tracks. Considering their respective ages, and for some an unwillingness to tour, this recording should help but is unlikely to catapult the artists into a whole new sphere of fame. Nonetheless, it’s an admirable effort to give them long overdue recognition
The project was helmed by Mike Mettalia, a harmonica player who leads the Midnight Shift band based in Pennsylvania, and Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, a guitarist who spent more than twenty-five years in Chicago and was a stalwart on Delmark before relocating to the West coast. The backing musicians have strong blues pedigrees including Illinois Slim (Tail Dragger, Big Moose Walker) on lead and rhythm guitar, John Sefner (Eddie Kirkland, Studebaker John) on bass, and Steve Dougherty (Gary Primich, Jim Liban) on drums. On a sad note, Mettalia was diagnosed with ALS shortly after these recordings were made. He continues to play, confined to a wheelchair but this may well be his last recording.
Six tracks feature 82-year-old Mary Lane on lead vocal, accompanied by her husband, Jeffrey LaBron on bass. Lane spent decades as a mainstay at Theresa’s on the South Side, in West Side clubs and with Johnny B. Moore at Blue Chicago. She was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in 2016. Her hard-earned experience and natural affinity for the blues comes through in the opening “Hurt My Feelings.”. “Papa Tree Top” has Mettalia playing in authentic Chicago blues style as he does throughout while Lane gives her man a scolding. “Don’t Want My Lovin’ No More” features strong interplay between Mettalia’s harp and Burgin’s searing slide. “I Always Want You Near,” is a dark, slow blues. She takes her turn with a couple of classics but doesn’t cover “Next Time You See Me” as well as many but does deliver “Goin’ Down Slow” passionately.
Little Jerry Jones, who issued some singles in the ‘60s was mentored by Elmore James and Sony Boy Williamson. He even claims that he played on Little Walter’s last gig. Jones has three tracks, beginning with the smoldering “Let’s Make Love Tonight.” Jones executes both his vocals and guitar playing in a relaxed, less-is-more style. On “Smokestack Lightnin’,” Jones gets down and dirty as Mettalia supports with his full-bodied harp tone. Jones nods to his mentor Elmore James on the closing classic “Dust My Broom”.
Milwaukee Slim (Silas McClatcher) has often appeared in projects for Billy Flynn, the late Barrelhouse Chuck, and other prominent blues artists. He’s the most powerful vocalist in this set as heard best on “Sloppy Drunk.” He also fronts the Mettalia- penned “Unemployment Risin’,” where we also again hear spirited interplay between Mettalia and Burgin’s piercing slide. Mettalia does the lead vocal on his signature tune, “Midnight Call,” supported by Illinois Slim on lead. Rockin’ Johnny Burgin gets his turns on Magic Sam’s “Things Gonna Work Out Fine” and shows strong vocal prowess on Howlin’ Wolf’s “I’m Leaving You.” Midway through the proceedings Mettalia and Burgin collaborate on a Junior Walker instrumental interlude, “Hotcha.”
This is yet another fine offering from West Tone Records, the issuer of Rockin’ Johnny Burgin’s last two solo albums and as well as the stunning tribute to Howlin’ Wolf which was recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios. Kudos here to both Burgin and Mettalia for recognizing these overlooked blues artists.
- Jim Hynes
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