JUNIOR WELLS’ CHICAGO BLUES BAND Hoodoo Man Blues (Analogue Productions)

Junior Wells’ 1965 debut album remains one of the most celebrated in the blues genre, and even into this century remained the best-selling record ever released by the Delmark label. Brilliant as it is, “Hoodoo Man Blues” is one sinister-sounding album. There’s something chilling about Buddy Guy’s bubbling guitar lines on “Snatch It Back And Hold It” that cools this potential party anthem right down. During “Ships On The Ocean” Wells’ vocals swoop from a holler to a croon to a chuckle in a single line: “Pick up on this, baby, this is the blues, you hear?” he advises at one point. Van Morrison gives the occasional shout out to Wells in his lyrics, perhaps a continued payback for copping Wells’ harmonica style - which involves blowing straight into a handheld PA microphone – wholesale, and Van’s interpretation of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me” certainly owes something to the version of “Yonder Wall” that closes this set. “Good Morning Schoolgirl” borders on creepy on the basis of the music alone, and a jabbing, accusatory “Hound Dog” has none of Presley’s sweetening pop sheen. A predatory, prickly “Early In The Morning” will surprise those who only know the song from Slowhand’s sleepy take on “Backless”, and “You Don’t Love Me, Baby” says as much in three minutes as the Allmans’ version does in 20. Ramping up the diversity, there’s even a cover of jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlin Con Carne”.

 “Hoodoo Man Blues” is not the sparsest or most technically sophisticated of blues recordings. Wells’ voice seemingly overwhelms the microphone on occasion, and the very 1960s stereo mix has bass and drums on one side and harmonica, guitar and vocals on the other, with precious little in between. However, Analogue Productions’ lavish 45 rpm reissue, pressed on two 180 gram vinyl discs, fair tears through these limitations, the music leaping from the speakers with astonishing immediacy.