Most would agree that the 1950's were the golden era of Chicago blues, when giants such as Muddy, Wolf, and Willie Dixon established the template - an ensemble sound, usually two guitars, harmonica and piano over bedrock bass and drums, dirty and distorted and loud enough to cut through a raucous and rowdy nightclub.
It's not the most varied or variable of formats, but when done right it's nothing short of magnificent. There's a carnal ferocity and an elemental sexuality to the music itself, and at its best the parts form a seamless and seemingly unstoppable force. It's also deceptive - it sounds simple, yet the blues are notoriously difficult to get right, with the correct combination of flair, finesse, and feel.
Both John Primer and Bob Corritore live and breathe this stuff, classic Chicago-style shuffles and grinders, guitar and harmonica leading the charge, with rhythm guitar and piano embellishing rock-solid grooves. Primer, who worked with Muddy as well as serving a long-term stint with Magic Slim's Teardrops, is a bluesman's bluesman who's never strayed far from twelve-bar convention. Corritore, who seems to be everywhere lately, is a lifelong student of the harmonica, learning from the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter while establishing his own significant chops.
They're joined here by a 'dream team' band anchored by alternating bassists Bob Stroger (another Waters alumnus) and Patrick Rynn and drummers Kenny 'Beedy Eyes' Smith and Brian Fahey. Billy Flynn and Chris James trade guitar duties, while Barrelhouse Chuck handles piano throughout.
The playlist includes familiar fare like Little Walter's "Blue And Lonesome" and Robert Lockwood's "Little Boy Blue" along with lesser-known numbers from Jimmy Reed ("The Clock") and Willie Dixon's jumpy "Just Like I Treat You." Primer and Corritore contribute a tune each (the loping "When I Get Lonely" and the aptly-titled "Harmonica Joyride" respectively) to the ten-tune playlist, but there aren't really any surprises to be found. Instead it's about the execution - this is blue-collar, hard-working blues, the kind heard in smoky and not-too-savory bars, filling the dance floors with sweaty and exuberant expressions of sexual longing and loneliness, that still hit with an almost visceral force.
Primer, re-emerging after some health issues, is a relaxed and unassuming vocalist, and his guitar work is sharp and stinging. He never tries to be anyone but himself, but there are times when he sounds much like Muddy, in timbre as well as a similar command and authority in his delivery. Corritore is an absolute master of the tiny tin sandwich, buzzing and roaring and growling with endless invention. He echoes the likes of Walter, Cotton, and Junior Wells without resorting to imitation or repetition.
In the end, though, it all comes down to the sound of the band. Lead instruments are featured prominently, of course, but it's the intricacy and inextricability of the support that drives each tune, and here it's intuitive. The title, indeed, could describe the lives of every participant - Knockin' Around These Blues, nothing fancy, just solid, old-style no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes blues served hot and fresh.
An instant classic!