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Billy Branch’s blues: a foot in the past, an eye on the future

It’s getting to be more difficult for blues musicians to carry on a legacy and remain contemporary. Master-apprentice relationships and clear lines of musical descent connected earlier southern traditions with the blues of the mid-50s Chicago heyday, and reflected a time when musical changes occurred slowly, over years and generations. An artist like Muddy Waters, […]

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James Cotton–Recorded Live at Antone’s Night Club

JAMES COTTON RECORDED LIVE AT ANTONE’S NIGHT CLUB Antone’s Records and Tapes ANT0007 Harmonica player James Cotton has a reputation as an exhilarating live performer whose high-energy, boogie-laden blues has never been accurately captured on record. During the mid-70s, he carried what was arguably the tightest working blues band of its day–featuring Matt “Guitar” Murphy […]

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The world’s most advanced rock star

Who could have predicted that black stars would so dominate the 80s pop firmament? Any accounting of the decade’s most important acts would have to include at least three black acts in the top, oh, four or so, by my reckoning–Prince edging out Bruce for number one, the two of them followed closely by Run-D.M.C. […]

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Young the restless

Years ago, I sat in a small club in San Francisco and watched Gary U.S. Bonds mark 20 years in show business with yet another night in a half-filled room. The crowd was desultory–too many had come on the off chance that a big Bonds fan named Bruce Springsteen might show up–but Bonds was a […]

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The blues and Moore

Even among the most successful blues artists, versatility has never been especially common. Some in the 50s, like harmonica player Little Walter and the still-active guitarist Louis Myers, honed a style that allowed them to play a classic Delta-influenced Chicago blues and swinging, jazzy styles with equal facility. In a similar fashion certain contemporary artists, […]

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Laura Nyro, cured and content

The woman leading the rock band at the Vic last Friday seemed a most unlikely candidate for pop stardom. Overweight, plain, quiet, eccentrically dressed in a style that was part beatnik and part suburban shopper, she sat at her electric piano, never getting up to prance or dance around the stage the way a pop […]

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A whiff of violence, a touch of grace: Magic Slim and John Primer play both ends of the blues

One of the most profound and beautiful things about the blues is its acknowledgment of the synergy between opposites. At its best, the blues celebrates and understands that pain and joy, violent aggression and expressions of love (especially sexual love), and hopelessness and faith complement one another as elements of a single whole. An artist […]

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Why Buddy Guy runs from the blues

Few blues musicians bear the burden of history as heavily as Buddy Guy. Along with fellow west-siders Magic Sam and Otis Rush, Guy stormed onto the Chicago scene in the late 50s with a searing, high-voltage guitar attack augmented by tormented lyrics, a passionate vocal delivery, and an energy level far more intense that that […]

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Roosevelt Sykes and the Honeydrippers–Raining in My Heart/Erwin Helfer–Chicago Piano

RAINING IN MY HEART Roosevelt Sykes and the Honeydrippers Delmark DL-642 CHICAGO PIANO Erwin Helfer Red Beans RB 010 Even in its heyday, the early 50s, the music popularly known as “Chicago blues”–traditional country blues laid over a citified rhythm section and augmented by amplified instruments–did not dominate the charts. Despite the monumental artistic achievements […]

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Marianne Faithful–Strange Weather

STRANGE WEATHER Marianne Faithfull Island Records 90613-1 Most rock crits wear the mantle of infallibility like Superman’s bulletproof long johns. Their year-end lists have a particularly definitive ring: “I’ve listened to ’em all, and these are the best that be” is the accepted subtext of such December tallies. But inevitably, come January, I wind up […]