Blues Round-up: September 2014

Henry Yates on new releases from Johnny Winter, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mudcats Blues Trio, Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson and Handsome Jack

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Johnny Winter: Step Back

It’s both fitting and touching that Johnny Winter’s swansong should be a love-letter to the blues standards that signposted his path. With marks for original songwriting not applicable, Step Back is all about the execution, and the Texan (who was 70 when he died in July) could still deliver in style. As a vocalist, he’s on fire here, equally convincing playing the surly roughneck on Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Mojo Hand (with Joe Perry stinging it on second guitar) as the seen-it-all sage on Sweet Sixteen (Joe Bonamassa supplying the fretboard dazzle). And on guitar, his abuse of that dinged Gibson Firebird was one of electric blues’ true thrills, right to the end – he even outshines Eric Clapton on Bobby Bland’s Don’t Want No Woman. Winter’s hope for the blues with this album was that it might “bring it to the people of today who haven’t listened to the old music”. Whether it recruits new blood or not, those he converted will treasure this last shard of genius. (810)

Lightnin’ Hopkins: Free Form Patterns

Hopkins’ 1968 album makes for an intriguing reissue, much of the bonus material taking the form of spoken-word snippets recorded surreptitiously by producer Lelan Rogers. It’s illuminating, candid and often hilarious stuff – one finds the bluesman discussing his sexual stamina after a drink – but original cuts like Give Me Time To Think and Open Up Your Door are still the main event. (810)

**Mudcats Blues Trio: Mudcats Blues Trio **

The Sheffield-based trio of Chris Wragg, Matthew Doxy and Jon Reed might be on to something. Tight musicians, they romp through classy heavy blues smashers like Breaking Over You and Can’t Cry No More, but nix expectations with the brass-funk of Drowning In The Flood and the stacked harmonies of Blind Willie Johnson. A band with big ideas. (710)

Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson: For Pops

Pops, of course, is Muddy Waters, born a century ago this year. Mud Morganfield will never escape the old man’s shadow, so here he embraces it, singing the hell out of covers from I love The life I Live to She Moves Me, in a voice like an indignant bear. Inevitably, Kim Wilson’s harp work is more supportive, but he makes a pretty convincing Little Walter. (710)

**Handsome Jack: Do What Comes Naturally **

Another slab of fuzz-arsed brilliance from the Alive label, this time hawked by four Buffalo longhairs. With scuttling drums, Nico-ish backing vocals and the cocksure twang of lead man Jamison Passuite, Handsome Jack are so cool it hurts – even when what sounds like a primary school recorder starts tooting halfway through Echoes. (810)

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.