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|The Chief Has Spoken Well
9 April 2008
"West Side Strut" is a modern classic of Chicago Blues. The ones responsible are Eddy Clearwater and his fine supporting cast. Ronnie Baker Brooks does a great job as producer and musician.
The album title alone – West Side Strut – takes the listener to one of the true homes of the blues – to the western parts of Chicago. It was there that Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, like many other greats, grew up as a musician. The special guests on the new Chicago blast take its audience ever closer to the Windy City: harp giant Billy Branch, veteran singer Jimmy Johnson.
|Clearwater, 73, and his cohorts have made a modern-day Chicago Blues classic. It is not the musical quality only, it is the fact that this cd mainly consists of original material that makes this album so very special. And the cover versions are not bad, either; an innovative take on the classic "Walking Through the Park" gives the spotlight to drummer Maurice "Moe" Taylor as well as to Daryl Coutts, who shows his stuff on the piano. A Muddy Waters cover is appropriate, bearing in mind that it is Mr Morganfield whom the stage name "Clearwater" derives from – Eddy himself was born Eddie Harrington. Often-heard "Trouble Trouble", by Lowell Fulson, is also well-handled here.
The staff on the album may be top-notch, but it is the left-handed, Indian head dress-wearing (Eddy's grandma had some Cherokee blood in her veins) Mr Clearwater who is in the starring role. His guitar work is strong all over; his vocals are hardly sophisticated – rather, his voice is true to his unpolished nature.
The atmosphere is furious, mostly, but the acoustic "Came Up the Hard Way" provides some contrast. Clearwater and Ronnie Baker Brooks perform the song as a dialogue between two blues generations. The song tells tales about the rural roots of the blues and the music's electrification in Chicago; the message is underlined by tempo changes and tag-up vocals between the Alabama veteran and the young talent, who was actually born among blues greats. Young Ronnie surely didn't have to search long for idols, as his father is Chicago hero Lonnie Brooks - who also guests on the album.
The deep and slow numbers are the real treats here. "Gotta Move on", sweetened by the horn section and Dennis Taylor's sax solo in particular, really does the trick with emotion and some gruelling lyrics. Soul man, Grammy nominee Otis Clay supplies guest vocals on "Do unto Others", another slow winner.
Boastful numbers are characteristic to Chicago Blues, and "They Call Me the Chief" delivers that kind of goods. Clearwater introduces himself with such arrogant self esteem on the song that he easily puts most rap/hiphop artists to shame. On the 'fast track' of the album, "Too Old to Get Married" and "A Good Leavin' Alone" are the clinchers; the former celebrates the 40-year friendship between Clearwater and Lonnie Brooks, whilst the latter opens the album with eye-popping energy. "A Time for Peace" closes the cd, like numerous other blues recordings, with a tribute to the gospel roots.
The Alligator Records album is produced by Ronnie Baker Brooks. The input of the younger-generation blues man is emphasised by some flashy work as singer/guitarist – he even wears the solo guitarist's hat on the fuming "Hypnotized". As Mr Clearwater himself puts it in the sleeve notes: "A fine blues man and musically impeccable producer."
With his new album, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater proves himself as a true frontliner of Chicago Blues. "West Side Strut" is an authentic piece of work in the category, still leaving space for variety provided by slow and acoustic tunes as well as some swampy stuff ("Rock-a-Blues Baby"). A must-have for all self-respecting friends of Chicago Blues.
Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater: West Side Strut. Alligator Records, 2008
Clearwater (guitar, vocals), Ronnie Baker Brooks (guitar, vocals), Daryl Coutts (keyboards), Carlton Armstrong (bass), Maurice "Moe" Taylor (drums)
Dennis Taylor (sax), Steve Herrman (trumpet and horn arrangements), Earnest Williamson (clarinet and background vocals), Jean-Christopher Leroy (percussion), Jackie Johnson, Marion Boyce, Stacey Hall, Valencia Robinson, Vicki Loveland (background vocals)
Special guests: Billy Branch (harmonica), Lonnie Brooks (guitar, vocals), Otis Clay (vocals), Jimmy Johnson (vocals)
Producer: Ronnie Baker Brooks
Links: Eddy Clearwater, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Alligator Records