Magic Slim & the Teardrops,
Midnight Blues
(Blind Pig, 2008)

If the blues is basic transportation, Magic Slim is the Concorde. The man drives, pushes, slams ahead with a thrust that propels him almost beyond the sound barrier. When he was 11, he befriended Magic Sam, who gave him a few guitar lessons and told him not to try to play like him, not to try to imitate anybody but to find his own sound. Slim took that advice; his playing to this day does not sound like anybody else's. Even when he plays the standard blues riffs, you know it's Magic Slim who is playing them.

On Midnight Blues, Slim goes beyond his backing band, the Teardrops, bringing in guest artists such as harp player James Cotton and guitarists Little Ed Williams, Lonnie Brooks and Elvin Bishop. Otis Clay, no slouch on guitar himself, contributes backing vocals. What could be a gimmick -- after all, every veteran player is making albums with tons of guest artists these days -- remains legitimate because Slim uses these players on one song each, where their talents fit, and lets the Teardrops wail on the rest of the songs.

How does it all work out? Well, the songs don't just cook, they boil. A blend of originals and classics -- he does Muddy Waters' "You Can't Lose What You Never Had" and "Crosseyed Cat," Little Milton's "Lonely Man" and "Loving You is the Best Thing That Happened to Me," and Willie Dixon's wonderful "Spider in My Stew" -- almost all of the songs yield new insights as Slim puts them through his particular perspective. He even does a version of Woody Guthrie's "Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad," which brings on a whole new definition of country blues.

Oddly enough, about the only song that doesn't work is the closer, the only one to feature horns, the Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings. Somehow the horns, meant to enhance the song, retard it instead.

That's a small quibble, though, for a wonderful record.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

17 January 2009

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