A great thing about re-issuing classic albums is it gives writers born a generation or two too late to have weighed in on them the first time a chance to admire them with some semblance of timeliness because let's face it: what is left to be said about Dark Side Of The Moon or Abbey Road at this point? Who but a blogger would be convinced they need to be heard on the subject of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road?
There's not much left to be said about the greatness of Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues. It's been inducted into the Blues and Grammy Halls of Fame and is on the Mt. Everest of Chicago blues records. Hoodoo has been hailed, cherished, and passed down by blues fans throughout the generations but thanks to our friends at Delmark Records, a young pup like me gets to contribute a small footnote to the mass of hosannas that are part of the legacy.
A few words on the album proper before we turn to the deluxe aspects of this re-issue. First, Junior Wells was a complete badass. I don't think that can be stressed enough. If you've heard Delmark's recent archival releases Live at Theresa's and Live in Boston 1966 you have some appreciation of what a dynamic live performer he was and the highwire he strutted night after night. Hoodoo captures that same sense of fun, mischief, danger, and swagger and that alone makes it essential, but there is so much more than that. Wells wasn't playing a part and he didn't need to. He was armed with great songs and he and his band cut them like the sharpest blade and you can still feel and hear the blood in the grooves of the record even though we're listening to this now on CD.
Another thing I love about this record is Buddy Guy. Guy is a hallowed, sainted figure in the blues but one who has polarized throughout his career. There are plenty of purists who find his fondness for volume appalling and his note-heavy solos excessive. Buddy is restrained, playing economical lead lines that meld with Wells' stinging harp on Hoodoo. Guy's detractors may not like the choices he's made over the years but after listening to this, they can't deny the man knew how to sound vital while playing it straight.
Hoodoo Man Blues has been remastered, expanded, and repackaged and this loving treatment has made the album even more special. The digipak packaging is glossy and beautiful and includes pictures from the sessions previously unseen.
The record sounds beautiful; Steve Wagner focused on preserving the natural ambiance of the original recording and mix and resisted the urge of most contemporary master engineers to compress the hell out of everything and jack the EQ through the stratosphere. The dynamic range is still there and you can feel it in the first two songs. "Snatch It Back And Hold It" leaps through the speakers. Junior, Buddy, Jack, and Billy declare their presence with force and fire and then they pull it back for the intro to "Ships On The Ocean" and the volume rises and falls, just like... ships on an ocean.
Where some remasterings would have both songs playing at the same volume, these two songs sound distinct and different. Wagner allows the music to sound like it did when it was recorded, only better.
The additional tracks and outakes on this new set will be of limited interest to many listeners. "I Ain't Stranded" was good enough to be included on the album proper. The alternate takes of "In The Wee Wee Hours" and "Hoodoo Man Blues" have been available before. The studio chatter isn't quite as revealing of Wells' eccentric, beguiling personality as the banter captured on the previously mentioned live sets. The "Yonder Wall" outakes yield some interesting moments but overall this is an album whose legacy stands on its original 12 songs that now sound as good as they ever likely will. For that alone, it's time to dust off your old copy and upgrade.