Wild Child Butler
Review by Wayne Donnelly
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Analogue Prod. Orig. APO 2015 (2 45rpm LP Set)
George "Wild Child" Butler is another in a long string of bluesmen whom Analogue Productions' impresario Chad Kassem has sought out and documented with fine-sounding recordings made at his Blue Heaven studio in Salina, Kansas. On present evidence, the 65-year-old Butler is a fine singer and plays a potent harmonica. Although they show some urban and contemporary influences, his songs appear still to be rooted in the acoustic blues of the agricultural South.
Butler is accompanied here by guitarists Jimmy D. Lane and Jimmie Lee Robinson, with Bob Stroger on bass and Sam Lay on drums. Most of the nine songs spread across these four sides are slow, with very laid-back acoustic accompaniment. The two cuts that most engage me are the up-tempo
"Slippin' In," which hits a hot groove that sets those body parts in motion, and" Funky Things," with only Butler's voice, harp and tapping shoe. "It's All Over" and "I Changed" benefit from Lane's switching to electric guitar; his tasty licks add welcome texture to the mix.
Butler is clearly the real thing, and my hat is off to Chad Kassem for his devotion to spotlighting this fast-vanishing older generation of blues originals. The recorded sound is warm and natural, my only complaint being a slightly flat-sounding drum kit. So why am I not more excited? My first look at the cover -- a close-up of a sweaty Wild Child, eyes intently closed, at one with his harp -- promised real excitement. But except as noted above, the music making seems almost sedate. I don't sense much spark or drive, and I think I know why.
In the past, I've had similar reactions to many of Joe Harley's Audioquest blues recordings. In spite of the obvious talent and sound quality they offer, listening to them has often left me at an emotional distance. During my decade of blues immersion, in Chicago in the '70s, I encountered Muddy Waters and
Howlin' Wolf and Buddy Guy and Son Seals and..., it was
live -- and whether in the Peppermint Lounge on 63rd Street, where we might be the only whites in the crowd, or in upscale Lincoln Park, playing in front of an audience made all those guys
work. The defiance, the despair, the lust, the humor -- those feelings were real, and we lived them, however vicariously, along with the artists. That's the kind of feeling I miss when I hear these immaculately recorded blues songs. I don't hear Wild Child sounding like he looks on the cover. I don't know about you, but I would happily trade some of this audiophile perfection for a live setting that would spur the man to really stretch out, as he surely can.
According to the APO web site, Sho' 'Nuff is available in a standard CD for $16, SACD for $25, or this 2 LP set for $30. So for $30 we get nine of the 13 songs available in the CD formats. Terrific as these LPs sound, I would happily trade this set for a 33 1/3 RPM single LP with all of the songs. With the 45's, just as I'm getting into some kind of groove, I have to get up and flip the record. And while I'm bitching, why not offer a hybrid SACD/CD to give the customer a built-in upgrade path? (If the present SACD is a hybrid, there's no mention of it on the site.)
Despite my carping, I'm grateful to APO for introducing me to Wild Child Butler. And there's no question that this LP set does what it does flawlessly; the surfaces are absolutely quiet, the resolution most impressive. In any case, I'd recommend you try this music in some format. You may well respond to the mood far more enthusiastically than I have. Support the blues!
Sound Quality: 95