Sleepy John Estes,
On the Chicago Blues Scene
(1968; Delmark, 2007)

On this CD, a remastered and released album originally put out in 1968, Sleepy John Estes, the legendary acoustic country bluesman, recorded with a first-rate electric band for the first time. The original title was Electric Sleep, a take on Muddy Waters' famous Electric Mud, that had come out a little earlier.

The two albums, though, are nothing alike. Muddy's was an attempt to place him in a new and different style, surrounding him with psychedelic effects and roaring electricity. There was no putting Sleepy John Estes in a new style, though. Whoever accompanied him, whatever he played, he was the same man, a master of country blues with a voice that carried a weariness, an emotionality that was enough to make a grown man throw off his acquired defenses and let the tears he'd long held back flow.

On this one, surrounded by city blues masters Sunnyland Slim on piano, Jimmy Dawkins on lead guitar, Carey Bell on harp, Earl Hooker alternating with Joe Harper on bass and Odie Payne Jr. on drums, Sleepy John might be playing rhythm guitar on an electric instrument, but he is true to his own style, letting the Chicago veterans adapt to him. And they do, beautifully. Although everybody plays gorgeously -- Bell's harp cuts like a freshly sharpened straight razor -- Sunnyland Slim is the true star of the band. His piano fills out the arrangements, commenting on the vocals and driving the band as easily and subtly as a mother raising her baby's hand.

Listening to this album, I was struck by the fact that everyone who played on it is gone now. How fortunate we are to have this CD to remember them by.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

9 February 2008

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