John & Sylvia Embry - Troubles

A welcome reissue of a rarity with a handful of previously unreleased tracks.
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Delmark Records have always championed the music of the Windy City, seldom recording or releasing much of anything originating outside of Chicago. The result is a virtually all-encompassing catalog of music that has literally spread around the world, yet remains curiously insular, somehow distinctly particular to the city often called 'the home of the blues.'

Take John & Sylvia Embry's Troubles, from sessions recorded in 1979 but released here for the first time on CD. Despite notes that take pains to point out that recording was 'old-school,' forgoing modern (in 1979!) studio trickery for an honest audio document of the band in action, it's an essentially timeless sound. And there's simply no doubt that it's Chicago, through and through, the playlist primarily shuffles and grinders with the occasional foray into soul.

John Embry, who passed in 1987, played slashing, stinging guitar, with a loud, distorted tone on most solos. Sylvia, who died in 1992, played bass and sang with a vibrato-rich passion and also composed six of the disc's seventeen tracks.  Married for a while, they were divorced by the time of this recording.  

The band is excellent, and the fare nicely varied. There are lots of straightforward twelve-bar blues - the original LP title was After Work, and it's unpretentious, get-'em-drinking-and-dancing stuff.  But there are also tunes like "Brook Benton's "Lie To Me," Wilson Pickett's "I Found A Love," here paired with a tune called "Rainbow." There's also "Mustang Sally" - keep in mind it was still relatively fresh back in 1979, and not the overplayed bar-band-cliché it's become.

The five previously unreleased tracks are all live and are dropped into the middle of the playlist.  It shows how tight the band could be - once the songs start and they catch fire, the sound is virtually identical to the studio tracks.  It's the sound of a working band, well-oiled and finely tuned by countless nights on stage. John Embry is an outstanding guitarist, his solos frenzied yet intelligently constructed, with a tone that seems to flirt with utter chaos. Sylvia (in later years she was known as 'Queen Sylvia Embry') is magnificent, roaring and pleading and aching with fervent, soul-baring intensity. 

It's all delivered with the kind of passion and aplomb needed in those days just to keep working. There may not be any big surprises, but this is a shining example of just why this seemingly simple music is heard around the world - it's potent and powerful stuff, as relevant today as it was back in '79.  Some things just don't get old ...