Various Artists – Chicago/The Blues Legends/Today!

Various Artists Chicago/The Blues Legends/Today!

West Tone Records

15 Tracks/68:34

Celebrating several lesser-known Chicago blues artists, this project also pays tribute to the three album set on Vanguard Records, compiled by blues historian Samuel Charters and released in 1966, that featured many artists who later achieved legendary status, like Junior Wells, Otis Spann, Otis Rush, and James Cotton. Adding the word “Legends” changes the title a bit, but the cover uses a design similar to the Vanguard set, readily apparent to anyone who familiar with those albums.

The recordings were done under the dual leadership of Mike Mettalia, a harmonica player who leads the Midnight Shift band, and Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, a guitarist who spent more than twenty-five years in Chicago before relocating to the West coast. They are supported by a number of notable backing musicians including Illinois Slim on lead & rhythm guitar, John Sefner on bass, and Steve Dougherty on drums.

Six tracks feature Mary Lane on lead vocal, accompanied by her husband, Jeffrey LaBron on bass, showcasing a voice honed by decades of scuffling through the network of small, little-known Chicago blues clubs. Her Appointment With The Blues release twenty years ago, with Johnny B. Moore on guitar and Detroit Junior on piano, generated some well-deserved praise and attention. Her tough persona comes through on “Hurt My Feelings,” with Dougherty laying down a tight shuffle. “Papa Tree Top” has Mettalia blowing some Jimmy Reed-style licks while Lane lets her man know that she is tired of his miserable treatment. Two other tracks were on her release, on Friendly Five Records in 1963,with her former husband Morris Pejoe on guitar. “Don’t Want My Lovin’ No More” is a hard-driving tune powered by the interplay between the harp and Burgin’s fine slide guitar work. The other side, “I Always Want You Near,” is a dark, foreboding, minor key classic. Her cover of “Next Time You See Me” fails to excite, but she regains her footing on “Goin’ Down Slow,” packing eighty-two years of life into a stirring vocal.

Little Jerry Jones takes the lead on three tracks, starting with his original, a slow elegy entitled “Let’s Make Love Tonight”. He takes his time as a vocalist while his lead guitar playing consists of fluid, single note runs. On “Smokestack Lightnin’,” Jones adopts a gritty approach that contrasts well with Mettalia’s full-bodied harp tone. Elmore James was one of Jones’ mentors, so it is no surprise that he covers “Dust My Broom”.

Milwaukee Slim (Silas McClatcher) has one release under his own name in addition to appearing on projects for Billy Flynn, the late Barrelhouse Chuck, and other prominent blues artists. His deep, powerful tones provide a spark on a spirited cover of the Jimmy Roger’s standard, “Sloppy Drunk,” as Mettalia once again impresses, with Slim urging him on. Even better is the rousing run-through of “Unemployment Risin’,” a Mettalia-penned tune that has another healthy dose of Burgin’s tighty drawn slide licks.

Mettalia gets his moment in the spotlight on another original, “Midnight Call”. Illinois Slim demonstrates his guitar dexterity behind the singer’s even keeled singing. Burgin does a fine job of channeling Magic Sam on “Things Gonna Work Out Fine,” before delivering a tough vocal on Howlin’ Wolf’s “I’m Leaving You”. On Junior Walker’s “Hotcha,” the leaders dial back the energy for a soothing instrumental interlude.

West Tone Records has done it again. There is plenty to enjoy on this collection that upholds the traditional blues sounds while managing to infuse plenty of energy into every cut, primarily due to the contributions of a handful of artists who appreciate the opportunity to gain a higher level of recognition in the blues community. Well worth checking out…….

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