Kim Wilson – Take Me Back! The Bigtone Sessions | Album Review

Kim Wilson – Take Me Back! The Bigtone Sessions

16 songs – 50 minutes

M.C. Records MC-0087

Harmonica giant Kim Wilson earned two Grammy nominations for M.C. Records in the early 2000s with the CDs Smokin’ Joint and Lookin’ for Trouble, but returns to the fold after a 17-year absence for this disc, which turns back the clock in more ways than one – because it was recorded in mono and live to analog tape just like it was done in the old days.

A 16-cut mix of clever originals and familiar covers, Take Me Back! was captured by Big Jon Atkinson, a modern-day master of old-school recording techniques, at his throwback BigTone Studios, using no more than four tracks on any song and laying down everything without overdubs just like they did it at Chess, Vee-Jay and Cobra in the ‘50s. The resulting sound is warm, rich and deep – items that are occasionally missing in digital studios today.

It’s a welcome change-of-pace for Wilson, the founding father of the legendary Fabulous Thunderbirds, who still plays up to 300 nights a year – COVID-19 permitting – while fronting them and splitting his time with his own band, Kim Wilson’s Allstars, and serving as a first-call musician for Buddy Guy, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton and others.

Like his regular bands, this album is chockful of talent. The lineup includes Atkinson, Billy Flynn, Kid Andersen, Rusty Zinn and Danny Michel on guitars, Bob Welsh on keys, Marty Dotson, Ronnie Smith, June Core, Al West and Malachi Johnson on drums and Kedar Roy, Troy Sandow and Greg Roberts on bass with Johnny Viau sitting in on horns. And longtime bandmate Barrelhouse Chuck’s also present on piano for two of his final recordings. The album’s dedicated to “my rogue uncle, the legend, Jimmy Rogers.”

Wilson opens with an easy/greasy cover of Jimmy Nolen’s familiar “You’ve Been Goofing” before exploding on the reeds for the original, rapid-fire instrumental, “Wingin’ It,” which alternately soars and glides aided by Big Jon on six-string. And Kim’s “Fine Little Woman” comes across with a classic feel, a perfect fit for versions of Larry Williams’ “Slow Down,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “No Place to Go” and Percy Mayfield’s “Strange Things Happenin’.”

The original West Coast blues, “Play Me,” features Flynn and Atkinson on guitars before Wilson does justice to the Windy City warhorse “If It Ain’t Me,” – one of four Rogers tunes in the set. The slow-paced instrumental, “Strollin’,” gives Kim plenty of space to work out on the reeds before two more Rogers classics: the familiar “The Last Time” and “Money, Marbles & Chalk.”

Little Walter’s “Take Me Back” gets a comfortable lump-de-lump arraignment before Wilson switches from diatonic to chromatic for another sensational instrumental original, “Rumblin’,” and the medium-paced shuffle, “I’m Sorry,” which features perfect, single-note guitar runs. Rogers’ “Goin’ Away Baby” sets up the instrumental “Out of the Fryin’ Pan” to bring the action to a close.

Available from most major retailers, Take Me Back! is as comfortable as a well-worn pair of expensive loafers. Try it on. If you’re old-school like me, it’s a great fit!

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