If Big Bill Morganfield's last name sounds familiar, there's a reason; his father, McKinley Morganfield - better known to the world as Muddy Waters - is one of the leading architects of post-war blues, a true titan of twentieth century music.
Big shoes to fill indeed, but Big Bill has, since his Blind Pig debut in 1999, consistently delivered well-crafted recordings that do his dad's legacy proud while showing ongoing growth as an artist in his own right. His latest, Blues With A Mood, on his own Black Shuck label, is nothing less than an old-school masterpiece.
The territory is familiar enough - everything here falls squarely within twelve-bar convention, grinders and shuffles the order of the day. Muddy's "Look What You Done" kicks things off, and there are covers of Sunnyland Slim, Willie Dixon, and Deadric Malone, but Morganfield's own compositions - he accounts for seven of the collection's eleven tracks - are hard-core blues through and through.
With no real musical revelations to be found, it all comes down to the sound, and the hand-picked band absolutely nails things. In addition to Morganfield, most tracks feature Eddie Taylor Jr. (another second-generation bluesman - his father was instrumental in Jimmy Reed's hugely influential sound) and Colin Linden on guitar. Texas legend Augie Myers is on piano, Chuck Cotton on drums, and Tom 'Mookie' Brill on bass. Rounding things out are Jim Horn on sax, and Richard 'Doc' Malone on harmonica. Two tracks feature an entirely different band, with both guitarist Bob Margolin and harmonica player Steve Guyger having worked extensively with Morganfield's famous father.
Gone are Morganfield's earlier inclinations to oversing - here he's relaxed and assured, content to let his natural authority and inherent dignity (lineage counts!) deliver his message. Performances are tight and economical, solos brief and to-the-point - the participants are all old pros who know it's not about the number of notes, but how it all fits together.
Morganfield's songs deal with the timeless issues that ensure the blues remain relevant - titles like "Devil At My Door," "Money's Getting Cheaper," "Look What You Done," and "Another Lonely Night" are indicative. He acknowledges his lineage on the brooding "Son Of The Blues" that wraps things up, and finds deep blues in the everyday with "No Butter For My Grits," the collection's longest track. Unlike so many blues tunes, it's not (really) a sexual metaphor - it's a lament for exactly what the title suggests, and the fact that Morganfield and friends keep it riveting for six and a half minutes is testament to the sheer power of his vocal delivery and the relentless groove the band lays down.
As a rather finite well from which to draw, there's not too much that can be done with basic, blue-collar Chicago blues, and one can easily argue that it's all been done before. But the form itself is unassailable, and when it's done with the authority, energy, and command that Big Bill Morganfield and friends bring to Blues With A Mood, it remains a powerful and potent musical statement. This is, indeed, how it's done...!