Another tribute to Muddy Waters? That’s OK; this time, it’s personal.
Larry “Mud” Morganfield never hides the fact that he’s the spawn of one of the greatest blues legends of all time — how could he, really? — and his voice and phrasing bears such strong resemblance to his father’s, swagger and all. But this Son of the Seventh Son (the title of his prior album) didn’t make the blues his career until after Muddy passed away in 1983 and the first album didn’t arrive until 2008; by then, Mud was already in his mid-fifties.
That makes it all the more remarkable that Morganfield’s command of the blues surpasses most of those who were gigging in their early teens. He’s also composed his own tunes but usually presents them right alongside songs his Dad played. With Muddy’s 100th birthday fast approaching, Morganfield felt the time was right for a full-on appreciation for the man who passed on blues royalty genes to him. For Pops (A Tribute to Muddy Waters) is the product of that, going on sale August 19, 2014 by Severn Records.
The real story here is that for this full-on appreciation came full-on commitment. Muddy always had a great harmonica player like Little Walter or James Cotton by his side; Morganfield likewise reached for the top shelf when he asked The Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson to make this record with him, and Wilson even shares the billing. The names of the rest of the musicians aren’t necessarily the biggest names in the business, but they’re among the best in the electric Chicago-style blues style largely pioneered by Waters: guitarists Billy Flynn and Rusty Zinn, pianist Barrelhouse Chuck, bassist Steve Gomes and drummer Robb Stupka.
Severn label head David Earl deserves credit for pairing Mud with Wilson, and also for taping the sessions with all the musicians playing together in the same room at once to capture that vintage feeling. With all these things going for it, what could go wrong?
Not a thing. Even the song selection is done the right way. Sure, there are some of Muddy’s signature crowd pleasers like “Still A Fool,” “I Love the Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love,” “Nineteen Years Old” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” but there are even more deep cuts such as “Gone To Main Street,” which right off puts the instant chemistry between Morganfield and Wilson on display. The same goes for “I Don’t Know Why,” which has a righteous shuffle and Barrelhouse slipping in a short, sharp solo. The Delta slide on “My Dog Can’t Bark” makes that same unmistakable connection between Clarksdale, Mississippi and the south side of Chicago that Waters made every time he played the blues.
When the arrangements are stripped down, Mud sounds just as good. His heartfelt but controlled vocal is commanding on the slow boogie “Fool” and as for those old favorites, Morganfield won’t sing the note-for-note the same way his Dad did for his own original version, but it’s easy to imagine that Muddy could have sang ‘em that way.
Muddy Waters has been dead for over thirty years, but whenever I listen to For Pops (A Tribute to Muddy Waters), my ears are telling me he’s still very much alive. And, he is — in the blood, soul and heart of Mud Morganfield.
feature photo: Sam Holden
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