37 songs – 159 minutes
Has Alligator Records really been running for 45 years? Most blues fans are aware of the tale of how the label started with founder Bruce Iglauer’s desire to record Hound Dog Taylor. Who would have thought that nearly half a century and almost 300 albums later, it would remain not only a proudly independent label dedicated to releasing “Genuine Houserockin’ Music”, it would also be part of the modern day blues fabric? It is almost impossible to imagine a blues scene without Alligator in it, and all blues fans owe Iglauer a huge debt of gratitude for having recorded and released so many absolute blues diamonds over the years.
The Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection is the sixth anniversary double-CD released by the label over the years and, as with the previous releases, it features wall-to-wall classics, personally selected by Iglauer and re-mastered, with cuts from the earliest releases (Son Seals’ “Cotton Picking Blues” comes from Alligator’s third-ever release) through to the modern day, with artists like Moreland & Arbuckle or Toronzo Cannon. It is also a perfect soundtrack to a party, be it houserockin’ or otherwise.
There are so many highlights, it’s very difficult to know where to start. Albert Collins’ killer live version of “If Trouble Was Money” from his Live In Japan album is worth the price of admission alone. Elvin Bishop’s 2015 track, “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” shows yet again that it is perfectly possible to write clever and engaging new songs in the genre. Carey and Lurrie Bell’s acoustic gem “The Road Is So Long” could have been recorded decades before Alligator started up. There are tracks by artists who helped to establish the label’s reputation, such as Koko Taylor, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials and of course Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers. There are songs by modern-day giants such as Tommy Castro, Roomful of Blues and Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King. And there are the new kids on the block, holding their own against the masters, viz Selwyn Birchwood and Jarekus Singleton.
Some of the more powerful elements of the album are the collaborations of artists, such as Joe Bonamassa guesting with James Cotton on “Cotton Mouth Man”, Bonnie Raitt providing subtle support to A.C. Reed on “She’s Fine” (with an absolutely belting solo from Reed); or Johnnie Johnson adding glorious honky tonk piano to The Kentucky Headhunters’ “Stumblin’”.
Hearing some artists can prompt the listener to dig out some of their old CDs that maybe haven’t been played for a while. Delbert McClinton’s “Givin’ It Up For Your Love” is a delightful reminder that his Live From Austin was one of the best albums of 1989 and really hasn’t dated since. Rick Estrin & The Nightcats’ “Callin’ All Fools” re-emphasizes that there are few writers out there with such a distinctive (and hilarious) world view, and few bands out there as nailed down as the Nightcats.
And to seal the deal, for this listener at least, there were a few artists who had slipped under the radar previously, a mistake that will be rectified. This reviewer had not heard much by JJ Grey & Mofro before, but was completely floored by “99 Shades Of Crazy” from This River. Likewise, Anders Osborne’s “Let It Go” from PEACE.
As you would expect from Alligator, the sleeve notes are detailed and informative and the entire package is available as two CDs for the price of one. What’s not to love? An utterly essential purchase.