Magic Slim & the Teardrops,
Raising the Bar
(Blind Pig, 2010)

To celebrate Magic Slim's 20 years on Blind Pig Records, the label has released Raising the Bar, a collection of songs, old and new, that span Slim's repertoire. Listening to it, you have to conclude, as I did, that Magic Slim is just about the best electric blues artist working today. Slim & the Teardrops -- John MacDonald on guitar, Andre Howard on bass and BJ Jones on drums -- have been called the last great Chicago blues band, and they live up to that title on this set.

Slim plays traditional 12-bar blues, with its call-and-response structure, so in terms of song form, he isn't offering very much that's new. You can hear the influence of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and other brilliant Chicago bluesmen in his music, but from the first note, you know it's Magic Slim playing; he is so original inside a formal structure that when you listen, you just shake your head in wonder. He appears to hear and feel differently from other musicians and plays what he hears and feels. For example, take his version of "Mama, Talk to Your Daughter," a chestnut that has been recorded by dozens of people. When Slim plays it, he attacks it; instead of chugging along, the song charges like an invading army. His solo on the "Mama..." is built on a single figure and, transcribed on paper, would look simple, but as it is played, there is nothing simple about it.

When he plays Elmore James' "I Can't Hold Out," he uses the standard Elmore James guitar figure but quickly extends and changes it, playfully making it his own. It, like everything else on this album, is beautiful.

Over the years, the 73-year-old Magic Slim has produced a body of work that other musicians would kill to have accomplished. Raising the Bar shows he hasn't decided to rest on his laurels. He's still raising the bar.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

25 September 2010

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