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Sings The Blues, CD (£7.43)
THE COMPLETE HOWLING Wolf RPM recordings, with the best sound yet due to newly unearthed acetates, plus the Joe Hill Louis instrumentals from Wolf's Crown album, logically sequenced - as a mid-price offering? Now based on that famous Crown LP with the original cover, this repackaging of our Howling Wolf Rides Again" CD from 1991 blows away the 'out of copyright' competition a lot more convincingly than Colin Powell's WMD evidence blew away the UN, to wax topical briefly."
Expert notewriter Dave Sax, esteemed Juke Blues Editor Cilla Huggins and myself are but three of the legions whose lives were forever changed the first time we heard Wolf announce Good evenin' everybody!" on budget vinyl and plunge us headlong into House Rockin' Boogie. What could be more electrifying than the brutally piledriving Wolf exhorting guitarist Willie Johnson's rule-breaking mix of primitive Delta blues and fancy jazz chording (no wonder Wolf's widow Lillie, held Johnson in markedly high esteem till her passing)-.-and the thumping boogie backing from drummer Willie Steele and more vaguely identified co-conspirators, all recorded with an otherworldly ragged-but-right ambience? The rest of the Crown album reinforced the impact of the band's introductory number, thanks in part to some sturdy contributions by Ike Turner on piano, while the mystery of whether or not those two chugging harp instrumentals were by Wolf just added to the charm.
The intervening decades (five since the original 1951-52 sessions) have generated research into personnel (with unresolved questions), background, additional alternates and unissued material, and brought us the CD medium to enhance playing time and audio quality. Without slighting Wolf's many great recordings after Chess moved him to Chicago and distanced him from the recording inclinations of Sam Phillips and the Biharis, Big Foot Chester was never more riveting than during his first years on wax around Memphis. Then, he and his wild band (the House Rockers, no less) revved up the lineage of Charley Patton and Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson #2) and harnessed it to youthful energy, maximum distortion and abandon, and a timeless vision which is no less vivid today - in fact, probably more so acoustically.
As Wolf put it so memorably himself on House Rockin' Boogie, "Ain't that sweet, darlin'? That's so sweet! I know you like sweet music, darlin'!" Sweet or not (the tuning will get some "no" votes), blues never got any better than this.
Our release coincides with a new biography, published on 1 June: "Moanin' at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf" by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman (Pantheon Books, New York).
By Dick Shurman"