LITTLE WALTER The Best Of Little Walter (Speakers Corner)

Conceptually similar and chronologically compatible with the Muddy Waters compilation discussed elsewhere in this issue (their catalogue numbers are contiguous) this album was originally issued by Chess in 1958, compiling singles sides recorded between 1952 and 1955.

Little Walter was Muddy Waters' harp player of choice, but his solo work barely impinges on his employer's territory even within the narrow confines of the Chicago blues subgenre. Walter's blues is a lighter, brighter, more positive beast than Waters', paradoxical as that may seem. Certainly there's none of Muddy's sense of apocalyptic foreboding here. He can even record a tune called "Sad Hours" that doesn't descend into wallowing self-pity; perhaps being an instrumental gives it unfair advantage.  At times - "You Better Watch Yourself" and the backdoor infidelities of "Tell Me Mamma" - the pace almost hits a gallop, emphasised by the clip-clopping percussion on the latter.  If anything hampers the album, it's the lack of anything immediately familiar for blues neophytes to latch on to, Walter's catalogue not having been plundered by teenagers from southern England during the early 60s to quite the same degree Muddy's was. Nevertheless, there's much to enjoy here.

Another fine Speakers Corner reissue, it can't do much about the inevitable limitations of the source material but it presents these primitive recordings as faithfully as possible.

LITTLE WALTER The Blues World Of Little Walter (Delmark) 

Barely a Little Walter album at all, “The Blues World Of Little Walter” compiles the eight ‘sides’ (as I believe I’m obligated to call them under blues lore) he recorded for the Parkway label in January 1950 as part of a trio that included Muddy Waters and co-credited vocalist Baby Face Leroy. The balance of the record is made up of contemporaneous but entirely Little Walter-free recordings by J.B. Lenoir and Sunnyland Slim.

The Little Walter & Baby Face Leroy session yields a roughriding, urgent form of Chicago blues that peaks with a two-part “Rollin’ & Tumblin’”, the latter of which dispenses with vocals in favour of primal moanin’ & howlin’. J.B. Lenoir’s tracks are rather more musically interesting, his plaintive, pleading vocal style surely deserving an album all to itself. Sunnyland Slim brings the big production guns, backed by guitar, tenor sax, bass and drums. He’s a shouter, emoting over a laid-back, almost New Orleans-y rolling backdrop.

It’s the blues, most definitely, but it’s hard not to think that there’s got to be a more efficient way of acquiring this material in this day and age.