Willie Buck – Willie Buck Way
17 songs – 69 minutes
It’s hard to believe that Willie Buck’s previous Delmark release, Cell Phone Man, was back in 2012. Thankfully, he has made up for lost time with Willie Buck Way (named after the honorary street that is named after Buck in Chicago), which contains 17 songs expertly produced by Buck, Thaddeus Krolicki and Scott Dirks and superbly engineered by Brian Leach and Blaise Barton at JoyRide Studio in Chicago.
Buck’s stellar band features some of the Windy City’s finest musicians, including Billy Flynn and Krolicki on guitars, Scott Dirks, Mervyn “Harmonica” Hinds and Big Spider Beck on harmonica (the latter also adding piano to two songs), Bob Stroger on bass, Jimmi Mayes on drums and Johnny “Fingers” Iguana on piano. The band does not disappoint, laying down a series of Grade A grooves throughout the album in support of Buck’s voice.
And what a voice Buck has. Despite being born in 1937 and leading his own bands in Chicago for over 50 years, his vocals remain in top condition with his innate inability to get inside the lyrics of each song. Buck’s vocal mannerisms and music owe a tangible debt to Muddy Waters, but at no point does he come across as mannered or contrived. Rather, he has absorbed Muddy’s influences so completely that they are merely a part of the whole that is Willie Buck.
Buck himself wrote 12 of the tracks on Willie Buck Way. Billy Flynn contributed “Can’t Say Something Good About Me” and there are covers of “Crawlin’ King Snake”, Leroy Carr’s “Blues Before Sunrise” (with peerless Muddy-style slide guitar from Flynn) and Muddy’s “Please Have Mercy” and “How Deep Is The Ocean”. The new songs have a enduring quality to them such that one would not be surprised if they had in fact been written 60 years ago (except of course for the title track, on which Buck happily announces to the world his status as a blues legend – with what sounds like a broad grin on his face).
As with Muddy’s great bands of that era, the guitars on Willie Buck Way are primarily used for rhythm purposes (although Flynn and Krolicki are both exceptional soloists when called upon) – the primary solos come from the harmonica and Iguana’s delightfully fleet-fingered piano playing (his playing on the rollicking fun of “(All I’m Doin’ is) Thinking of You” and the grind of “Bottom of the Hill” is particularly noteworthy).
The songs range from the finger-picked acoustic guitar and harmonica backing of “My Mind Froze Up” and the classic entwining guitars and harp on “Twenty-Four Seven” through to the full band one-chord stomp of “There’s A Woman”, the classic shuffle of “You Want Me To Trust You” and the irresistible groove of “I Give So Much To You”.
The funky “Heck Of A Time” nods towards the late-1960s with its subtle wah-wah rhythm guitar and slightly psychedelic guitar solo but the rest of the music on Willie Buck Way is essentially classic 50s-style Chicago blues, played with élan, formidable technical prowess and a deep emotional connection that is all too rare in today’s music. It’s a pretty much essential purchase.