Junior Wells + Guest Slide Guitarists
I really found myself surprised to be reviewing this recording. Junior Wells is one of the more famous traditional blues performers. His instrument is the harmonica and he replaced Little Walter in the influentially famous Muddy Waters' Chicago blues band in the mid fifties. I usually claim to not be much of a blues lover and the harmonica is not near the top of my favorite instruments' list. So why, you might ask, did I choose to review this recording? My answer is simply that I enjoyed much of it and mainly, but not entirely, because of the demonstration quality of this hybrid SACD disc. This disc should play on any CD or SACD player and give listeners as clean, clear and realistic sound as you're going to hear at this state of the art. It was recorded in April 1996 (recording engineer Michael Bishop) and was first released a few months later in regular 16-bit/44.1kHz CD format. This disc features specifications and sound quality potential far beyond that, like frequency response to 100kHz and dynamic range of more than 100dB. Two-channel reproduction bests those figures depending on your setup, assuming your player passes the analog signal fully intact. If your receiver's or preamp's DSP (Digital Signal Processing) control is factory set to convert at 44.1kHz, all that extra quality Telarc is working to give you, is simply cut out! Wells has since passed away before this version of that recording was released. His most famous recording was Hoodoo Man Blues, released in 1965. Then as in this recording, he's at his best when keeping a traditional style and holding his flashier show off tendencies in check.
Unlike some blues performances, here the words are easily understood, and all aspects of vocal phrasing readily apparent. This is what happens with an outstanding recording. Most tracks have pure acoustic instrumental accompaniment. The perspective appears to be a very small nightclub setting with your seat usually about a dozen feet from the stage. I have read that Junior Wells has a "gravely voice" and that is often a negative implication. I found his singing voice to generally be good and certainly pleasing to me. I particularly got a kick out of Tampa Red's novelty type tune "She Wants to Sell My Monkey". Not a duet, but Wells and Alvin "Youngblood" Hart are bantering back and forth about Wells' girl friend's threat to sell his monkey. There is probably some hidden message in all this, but if so, it escaped me. If either Wells' or Hart's voice sounds bass heavy or a bit boomy, check out your speakers or their placement; one or the other probably needs to be changed. If either voice seems actually harsh or emphasizing sibilants, suspect your tweeters, player or cables in that order of possible guilt. The writers of the other classic blues tunes Wells selected for this album include Robert Nighthawk, Bobby Charles, Junior Parker, Arthur Crudup and Sonny Boy Williamson.
There are a total of six guest guitar soloists accompanying Junior Wells on various selections plus a rhythm section of bassist, pianist and drummer. Three of the guitar soloists are classic veterans; the other three are up and coming talents.
In summary, here is an outstanding overall recording of "classic blues" performed by old and new master artists almost entirely with acoustic instruments. Even listeners, like myself, who are not fans of the genre, may find themselves enjoying this album! Adding sonics of truly demonstration quality almost compels me to toss in the appellation, highest recommendation.
Tab Benoit: Guitar (Acoustic)