Thursday, December 30, 2010

This is Howlin' Wolf's new album...

Well, it's been a long and grueling week here in the Swamp, and it's not over yet, no sir. All throughout my labors today I fantasized about diving into a frigid booze ocean and absorbing large quantities of it via osmosis, whilst pontificating about a weighty wonderful album and thus grinding the jagged edges of reality down into tolerable squishy nudges. Now that my daily duties have been fulfilled and I sit down before you, I have no idea which record I was daydreaming about, and all of the elaborate sentences I constructed in my mind have evaporated. Ah well, so what?

Here's an interesting one though: Aging bluesman Howlin' Wolf, once a larger-than-life figure of menace and mystery among his inferiors, is by 1970 frail and sickly. His longtime rival/labelmate Muddy Waters has released the transcendent "Electric Mud," a wild psychedelic rejiggering of his old standards with a hungry young whiteboy band, to critical disdain and large piles of cash money. Their label, the once-vital Chess, is struggling to stay afloat and, energized by that success, forces its other surviving 800 lb. gorilla into the same corner. This is the result.

Much has been said about this, from the predictable purist sneering to the retroactive acclaim of figures like Chuck D (who claimed both records as early influences). Personally, I take comfort in it and find myself drawn to it after long stretches of work, angst, and hollowness. Wolf may have claimed to hate it, but he sounds like he's having a blast. He recorded a similar, tighter session in London two years later with a much more unsavory psych band that included racist douchebag Eric Clapton, "fusion" pioneer Steve Winwood, and the rhythm section of original blues biters the Rolling Stones. Muddy and Chuck Berry, both quickly overcoming their skepticism when faced with sizable percentages, would do the same. History bends in strange curves in the wake of these albums, in retrospect, but I stand in defiance of those who say this one is an empty cash-in or a novelty.

"Why don't you take them wah-wahs and all that other shit and go throw it off in the lake — on your way to the barber shop?"

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