Bob Margolin,
All-Star Blues Jam
(Telarc, 2003)

All-Star Blues Jam packs a memorable punch and stays true to what it is. It's like an old family specialty -- made using the best ingredients by the best cooks in the house served up on a brand new platter.

Two cuts on this CD were taped at Bob Margolin's home and the rest at Blue Heaven Studio in Salina, Kansas. Margolin leads the way in organizing this crew and he's joined by some almighty people -- in alphabetical order, Carey Bell, Mookie Brill, Jimmy D. Lane, Pinetop Perkins, Willie "Big Eye" Smith and Hubert Sumlin.

Here's how the CD was made, according to Margolin: "On each song one of us calls the key and counts it off or just starts playing. What happens is a musical adventure. It's not a rehearsed, crafted, studio-perfected performance but is filled with spontaneous interaction and intuitive collaboration." So lies the gist of this CD. These players, all veterans, use some heavy-handed, solid sound but pull out a fine, feathery touch when called for.

I liked how the CD opens. It takes you back to the era when railroad was king and the harmonica a traveling man's closest companion. Unfortunately, we only get a brief bite of that chunk of flavor, though the mouth harp returns in other songs. The tracks move through a diverse selection of tunes (from Jimmy Rogers, Johnny Shines, Brook Benton, Margolin himself) and delves deeply into the talents of all the players.

Without a doubt it's straight-up blues. The only exception is the last tune, a gospel number called "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" initiated by Pinetop. The reason it's here is explained in the liner notes.

Taking a look at the liner notes is a quick history lesson in the blues. The background on the musicians, the tunes and the making of this CD are the heartfelt musings of Bob Margolin and proves that the CD delivers what it was meant to. A look at some tune titles says a bit about the style, too. Included are "Brutal-Hearted Woman," "Sweet (Little) Black Angel," "Easy to Love You," "Goin' Down Slow" and "Mean Old Chicago."

The only way I was disappointed by this CD was that I expected more rock flavoring and it wasn't there. But that was a presumption on my part. This isn't blues for dancing. It's for listening and mulling, and nodding your head to the artistry and listening to the instruments dance. Yeah, this is about the instruments dancing; a couples' dance with the musicians leading. It would have been an amazing floor show, watching the instruments being warmed up and coaxed, guided and teased into some outstanding moves. At least we get to listen to the sound and the type of recording this is brings you right into the picture.

Thanks, Bob.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 6 March 2004

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