Bob Margolin – Down in the Alley (1993)

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In 1948, young Muddy Waters recorded a 78 for Chicago’s Aristocrat Records. It was the shot heard ’round the blues world. Black urban listeners — most of whom, like Waters, were from the rural South — had found a new voice. It sold out in fewer than 48 hours.

Rooted in the traditions of contrapunctal Delta blues, yet breathing in the amped-up electricity of that big Illinois town, Waters instantly and forever redefined modern music. Without Muddy, there could be no Rolling Stones … much less blues guitar-hero successors like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and so on. It follows then that these records would have lasting influence, importance … and disciples.

If you then follow every Muddy creek and stream, then you’ve heard Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin. Start with 1993’s Down in the Alley from this old-school protege who played with Waters from 1973 through 1980. Here, we find a young guitarist unafraid of stepping into Muddy’s deep footprints.

Bob Margolin makes loose use of delay-time rhythm playing, a mean slide scream, this cool head-back growl and, lastly, the duo and trio ideas that were so successful for his old boss. (Remember that Waters’ first recordings included nothing more than Muddy and slap-happy bassist Ernest “Big” Crawford; later, Little Walter was added on harmonica.) Like those post-war masterpieces, the tunes making use of the classic duo or trio format here are the healthiest, most unerring tunes.

Best of all are the pairings with vocalist Nappy Brown — whose brown-bottle baritone is supple, trembly and fine. In fact — outside of the raucous, yet oddly bland, opener — Bob Margolin’s first big record has much to offer. Truth is, the full-band dynamic can work for him, as with “Lonesome Bedroom Blues” — but that may be only because Kaz Kazanoff backs off on the sax a bit.

Even the most obvious track here — Muddy Waters’ “Look What You’ve Done” — comes off, believe it or not. It was Margolin’s most unguarded vocal yet.

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