Review: Chicago Blues A Living History - The (R)Evolution Continues

I may be a civilian but my ears don't lie...
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Chicago Blues A Living History - The (R)Evolution ContinuesCan feelings be wrong? You can't argue with them. You can't persuade them. They spring forth, flourish, and color our perceptions without permission. You can tell your feelings they're wrong, that they're based on distortions and deceptions but good luck with that. Feelings don't listen and they don't behave. If you're lucky, the heart forever remains a child. I'm a music fan who has spent his life listening to and learning as much as I can but in the end, I can't play a lick. I try to listen my way through and work it all out but sometimes the heart wants what it wants and with me it sometimes hears what it wants.

Chicago Blues – A Living History – The (R)evolution Continues isn't the same as the music from the city's glorious golden years when it was capitol of not just the blues world, but the center of the musical universe. The songs remain the same but the practitioners, performers, and torchbearers on this collection were inspired by the greats who made those songs (and the greats who inspired them). These are hand-me-down blues which is just another way this set is authentic as the blues idiom was born, spread, and flourished because of that hand-to-hand, hand-me-down approach.

It can never and will never be the same but the feeling at the heart of what made names like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Buddy Guy, and on down the line, legends- that feeling never died and it never will. The music isn't the same but the magic is! The dudes on this record – Billy Boy Arnold, Lurrie Bell, Kenny Smith, John Primer, Billy Branch, Magic Slim among them – they learned from the originals, played with the originals, and in some cases are related to institutions of the tradition. They know it, live it, love it, and preserve it while imbuing these songs with their own spirit and fire; as the collection's title suggests, this is a living history.

Lurrie Bell, John Primer, Billy Boy ArnoldListen to the first three cuts from Billy Boy Arnold. Unlike many who became famous in Chicago, Arnold is actually a son of the Second City. It's in his blood. Listen to the way the music was recorded, to the rhythm Kenny Smith taps out- this is real in intent and the execution is pretty damn wonderful, too. The best of them is "Jelly Roll Baker." Arnold still has that warm, smooth voice and it has aged very well. We don't hear him blow his harp until he performs "She Don't Love Me That Way," a song by his mentor, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. Williamson gave the young Arnold harp lessons and the student remembers those teachings well.

Primer channels his former boss Muddy Waters on the Waters-penned "Canary Bird." He nails the vocal and delivers a slide solo so authentic you might be fooled. The great Lurrie Bell delivers three outstanding performances on this set, the best of which are on the album's first disc. Billy Branch's "Yonder Wall" comes off like a Junior Wells number, complete with a rhythm section that sounds like Aces Dave and Louis Meyers and Fred Below recorded it.

The tight core of session men who back the rotating cast of frontmen -- Kenny Smith, Felton Crews, Billy Branch, and Johnny Iguana -- are such students of the authentic Chicago sound and they recreate it faithfully over the breadth of this disc. The other heroes of this and the prior Living History set are the songs of Chicago. How amazing is it that a pair of 2-CD sets hasn't dented the canon of great songs made famous by legends of the Windy City?

There is no instance where a Living rendition exceeds the classic but if you're willing to accept the idea there are still men and women who know how to sing real, authentic Chicago blues and you're willing to believe classic songs whose power has been diminished by some truly godwaful covers can once again shine, the revolution can continue for you.