There’s an old Willie Dixon adage you might have heard that “The blues is the roots, and the rest is the fruits.”
One timely example of that sentiment is Texas guitar slinger Freddie King‘s inclusion among this year’s nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (announced this week), with King’s Rock Hall bio noting his influence on such other artists as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Carlos Santana, and Jeff Beck.
Another case in point: fellow Texas guitarist Johnny Winter‘s latest CD Roots – out this week on Megaforce Records – which press materials describe as “return(ing) Johnny to his roots by paying homage to the iconic blues heroes whose pioneering music influenced Winter’s own signature sound and style.” Indeed, Roots finds Winter taking on (in a surprisingly energetic way, considering his recent health problems) nearly a dozen blues classics from such masters as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Bobby Blue Bland, T-Bone Walker, and Jimmy Reed, among others, joined in his effort by special guests that include Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Sonny Landreth, Susan Tedeschi, John Popper, and brother Edgar Winter.
The album kicks off on the natural ball of a Sonny Landreth-accompanied “T-Bone Shuffle,” followed by a strong “Further On Up the Road” with guitarist/Conan bandleader Jimmy Vivino, and an Allman Brothers-sounding “Done Somebody Wrong” that includes Warren Haynes on slide.
Fellow ABB bandmate Derek Trucks joins Winter a bit later for Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom,” while Trucks’ wife Susan Tedeschi contributes lead guitar and vocals on a bright duet of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City.”
A straight-ahead take on Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Workin'” features some terrific harmonica from Frank Latorre, and Blues Traveler John Popper keeps the harp workin’ on the slow blues of Little Walter’s “Last Night,” before Vince Gill joins the party with a country blues run at the Chuck Berry hit “Maybellene.”
The album’s sole instrumental – Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s “Honky Tonk” – incorporates some soulful sax from Johnny’s brother Edgar, with Winter band guitarist Paul Nelson (who also produced the album) featured on the fun country boogie of “Short Fat Fannie.” John Medeski accompanies on organ for Walter Davis’ always-delightful “Come Back Baby,” complete with a particularly stinging solo from Winter to help close the album.
While it may not be entirely accurate to herald this as a return to Winter’s roots in that he’s never really strayed too far from the blues during his accomplished career, it is nonetheless a triumphant return – both on guitar and vocals – for the bluesman following his last studio album, 2004’s I’m a Bluesman. It’s always enjoyable when Winter comes at the genre with full force, and this time, it’s with the help of a few friends, who together make Roots one of the most exciting blues albums of the year.
PowR cuts: “Got My Mojo Workin’;” “Last Night;” “Bright Lights, Big City;” “Honky Tonk;” “Dust My Broom;” “Come Back Baby”