MUDDY WATERS The Best Of Muddy Waters (Speakers Corner)

This is an audiophile vinyl reissue of a decidedly old-school Chess compilation; it may be a mere 12 tracks long, but it's riveting, crammed with the least repetitive variations on a 12-bar theme that I can think of.

Totally commanding from the opener "I Just Want To Make Love To You", Muddy's voice rips and tears out of the speakers with monophonic intensity. it makes The Rolling Stones' Bo Diddley-esque cover sound like greasy candy-coated kids' stuff. Little Walter conjures up a mournful whine from his harp during "Long Distance Call", and the hissy, scratchy sonics of "Rollin' Stone" are no impediment to it being one of the most vital recordings collected here. On "I'm Ready" Waters' holler borders on vicious, backing up his claims of drinking TNT and smoking dynamite. It's not quite slickly commercial, but the full band backing is the compilation's closest brush with production values. "Hoochie Coochie" (sic) remains prototypical, not stereotypical. Muddy sounds cavernous, like a force of nature, and everyone does indeed know he's here. Vivid doesn't even cover it. Similarly, the slow-grinding rhythms of "Standing Around Crying" and "Still A Fool" are beyond salacious.

These arrangements are simple but biting, the recordings primitive but powerful. "High fidelity", it says on the sleeve, and I have no reason to dispute it.

MUDDY WATERS Muddy Waters At Newport 1960 (Speakers Corner)

In 1960 Muddy Waters brought his electric blues band to a Newport Jazz Festival whose future looked uncertain following an incident in which the National Guard were called in to disperse 10,000 drunken ticketless would-be concertgoers. There’s not a hint of conciliation about his performance, though, which is uncompromising and hard-edged, tearing through genre cornerstones such as “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”, a pre-Them “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and two loose-limbed, rolling versions of “Got My Mojo Working”. The album closes with an impromptu collaboration with the poet Langston Hughes, who provides lyrics for “Goodbye Newport Blues”, addressing the previous day’s carnage.

Whether this is essentially a primitive recording or not I don’t know, but after receiving maybe a dozen or more excellent Speakers Corner vinyl reissues this is the first record from that company that I can’t recommend for its sonics. It’s plagued by a strange kind of fluffy distortion that varies in audibility throughout the album, suggestive of something gone horribly awry in the production process. Best wait for a repress should you be interested in acquiring this vital, important music in the format for which it was made.

MUDDY WATERS Hard Again (Friday Music)

Previous attempts to connect Muddy Waters’ brand of Chicago blues with a contemporary audience had met with artistic and critical resistance, but this 1977 collaboration with Johnny Winter (credited with production, guitar and miscellaneous screaming) conclusively hits the spot.

Opener “Mannish Boy” is awesome - Martin Scorsese chose this version of the song to slice and dice into the soundtrack of “GoodFellas”’ frenetic “Sunday, May 11th, 1980” sequence - , to the extent that it’s in danger of overshadowing the rest of the record. It takes a while, but the remaining eight tracks gradually reveal their own individual charms. Good-timey and upbeat, “The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll (#2)” cheekily posits the unlikely theory that Queen Victoria once acknowledged that “the blues got soul”. A bottlenecked acoustic saunter through “I Can’t Be Satisfied” is perhaps the best match of singer and instrumentation; fabulous as the veteran-peppered band’s swampy, furious sound is, sometimes Muddy seems to have to shout to make himself heard.

Friday Music have blessed this fine music with one of their best yet vinyl reissues. It has the words “Kevin Gray” and “RTI” on the back cover, almost a guarantee of a well mastered, carefully pressed record, counts on which this one succeeds admirably.