Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials – Rattleshake (2006)

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Ed Williams, a good-time throwback, is as much bluesman and blue blood — his uncle and musical mentor was the great slide guitarist J.B. Hutto — so it’s certainly no surprise that he strikes a determined retro stance on “Rattleshake.”

What’s cool is that he keeps pulling it off.

Mature and easy going, Williams’ band was perhaps framed up best by The Washington Post — which said they had “contagious wildness.” That holds true here, though the Blues Imperials do offer a sensitive reading of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Tramp On Your Street.”

Throughout, there is this first-take immediacy — and that’s in keeping with Ed’s legend.

In 1986, Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer invited the Blue Imperials into the studio to do one song for an anthology of young Chicago blues upstarts. Before it was over, the crew was ordering out for beer.

Williams recorded his entire first album, “Roughhousin,'” right then, live.

So, yeah, the keep-it-real vibe of oldsters like Hutto (and Hound Dog Taylor, for that matter) runs through this band — Hutto also taught Ed’s half brother, James “Pookie” Young, to play bass — but while the Blues Imperials certainly do it the old-fashioned way, their unfettered joy can’t help but make it sound new.

Williams has a creative spark, and a knack for a just-right — but never showy — flourish, that keep “Rattleshake” from sounding like rote redo.

Listen long enough, and you’ll hear the whole gamut. Back-ain’t-got-no-bone Chicago shuffles? Sure. Smoking slide boogies? Check. Soul-deep blues? Done. And all with a disarming, never-gone grin.

They should get a cover charge every time you listen.

This is as close as you’ll get, minus the smoke and that overwhelming feeling that somebody is probably hot-wiring your car outside, to live finger-licking West Side blues.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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