Chicago Blues: A Living History returns with another blues (R)evolution

You may recall 2009’s much-acclaimed two-disc collection Chicago Blues: A Living History, which featured Billy BranchLurrie Bell, John Primer, and Billy Boy Arnold performing their interpretations of songs representing the evolution of the Chicago blues, from early 1940s tunes like Sonny Boy Williamson’s “My Little Machine,” Big Bill Broonzy’s “Night Watchman Blues,” and Muddy Waters’ “Feel Like Going Home” to John Lee Hooker’s 1989 “The Healer” and a damn fine take on Buddy Guy’s early ’90s “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” from Bell. Also included were such gems as Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin’ at Midnight,” Lowell Fulson’s “Three O’Clock Blues,” Little Walter’s “Hate to See You Go,” Billy Boy Arnold’s own 1955 hit “I Wish You Would,” Willie Dixon’s “My Love Will Never Die,” and Junior Wells’ “Hoodoo Man Blues,” among others. Not surprising to anyone who heard it, the historic album was nominated for a Grammy and two Blues Music Awards, and received several international awards.

Two years later, these masters of the Chicago blues are back, this time joined by a few friends and special guests including guitar and harmonica legends Buddy Guy and James CottonMagic SlimRonnie Baker Brooks, and Zora Young, in addition to returning guests Carlos Johnson and Mike Avery and, of course, their Living History Band (Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums, Matthew Skoller on harmonica, Billy Flynn on guitar, Felton Crews on bass, and Johnny Iguana on keyboards).

cblh_revolution_cover-300x273Again on The (R)evolution Continues (available June 21st from Raisin Music), the CBLH covers a variety of tunes spanning the 1940s to the present, including music from Lonnie Johnson, Magic Sam, Tampa Red, Jimmy Rogers, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Otis Rush, and Sonny Boy Williamson. The blues’ influence on rock n’ roll is especially well documented through such songs as Chuck Berry’s “Reelin’ and Rockin'” (here performed by John Primer), Billy Branch’s take on “Bo Diddley” – part of a medley with Little Walter’s “Mellow Down Easy” that closes the first disc and includes Branch rapping about Diddley’s role in helping to bring about rock n’ roll – and, of course, the collection’s bonus track, Muddy Waters’ “The Blues Had a Baby (and They Named It Rock and Roll),” featuring all four of the CBLH on vocals, with Primer on guitar and Branch on harp. The CD also includes two other Waters cuts – Primer delivering “Canary Bird” and Bell with “Diamonds at Your Feet,” making Waters the best-represented of the Chicago blues legends on this encore set.

Billy Boy Arnold offers up the album’s first three songs, opening with Lonnie Johnson’s “He’s a Jelly Roll Baker” before tackling some other great tunes in Tampa Red’s “I’ll Be Up Again Someday” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “She Don’t Love Me That Way,” including handling harmonica on two of the tracks.

Primer particularly shines on Jimmy Rogers’ “Chicago Bound,” and Bell does a fine job on Floyd Jones’ “Stockyard Blues,” but perhaps disc one’s most exciting tune has Branch and James Cotton trading harmonica licks on “Rocket 88.” Here’s a good time to mention that the album’s liner notes are pretty impressive as well, including a detailed, nearly blow-by-blow account of the harmonica solos on “Rocket 88,” in addition to information on each song’s personnel, photos from both studio and live performances, and a timeline of song release dates and Chicago blues events.

Disc two kicks off with a blistering take of “First Time I Met the Blues” from Buddy Guy, and continues with guest appearances from Magic Slim (“Keep A-Drivin’,” with Primer on rhythm guitar), Mike Avery on cousin Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby,” and blues diva and Howlin’ Wolf relative Zora Young with mentor Sunnyland Slim’s “Be Careful How You Vote.” Koko Taylor and Junior Wells band alumnus Carlos Johnson also lends his talents with soulful and jazzy interpretations of “Somebody Loan Me a Dime” and Otis Rush’s “Ain’t Enough Comin’ In,” while Ronnie Baker Brooks unleashes father Lonnie’s “Don’t Take Advantage of Me,” along with his own funky “Make These Blues Survive,” the set’s closing track that acknowledges and pays respect to such masters as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Luther Allison, John Lee Hooker, and Albert Collins, as well as many of the artists and guests on The (R)evolution Continues.

The core CBLH members are no slouches on disc two either, with Branch offering a smoldering version of the Elmore James classic “Yonder Wall,” Primer taking on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ for My Baby,” and Bell (vocals and guitar) and Branch (harmonica) teaming for a tribute to Lurrie’s father, harp legend Carey Bell, on “Got to Leave Chi-Town.”

If you either missed it or somehow weren’t entirely convinced the first time around, the CBLH’s The (R)evolution Continues leaves no doubt that the history of Chicago blues is still very much alive and well.

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