Junior Wells – Coming at You
Buddy Guy – A Man & the Blues (Craft Recordings)
Craft Recordings continues to move the bar higher, reissuing a pair of vintage blues albums and setting a new standard for quality. The real difference here is the warmth and depth of the vinyl’s low end – this is truly the reason people claim they prefer analog over digital formats. Yet, it’s one of the few times a newly-pressed album actually delivers the goods. In addition, the heavy-grade album sleeve and attention to detail make for a packaging that’s as impressive as the vinyl it houses.
Junior Wells – Coming at You
First, this is the reason that album covers used to be 12 x 12 inches in size – what a cool, multi-colored, psychedelic cover.
A lot of this material is familiar, but it never sounds shop worn, thanks to the clever arrangements and the stellar backing, breathing new life into these classics. For instance, the album opens with a surprisingly upbeat, horn-infused reading of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breakin’ Down.” On “Somebody’s Tippin’ In,” marvel at how the guitars of Buddy Guy and Walter Williams interlock into a groove.
Guy is certainly the real treat here. For “Five Long Years,” he answers Wells’ vocals with supple fills, before taking a solo, full of bends and turns. The Sun Records classic “Mystery Train” grooves instead of chugs – the addition of sax gives it extra grit.
Wells has this unique vocal style – he can be super smooth and then devilishly rough, sometimes in the same line of the song.
Wells orders “play me some guitar Buddy Guy” on “So Sad This Morning. Despite harmonica being his primary instrument, Wells never overplays, allowing the others to take the spotlight equally.
“Tobacco Road” is the real highlight. This slow burning, sparsely arranged blues is so good it will give you shivers – it barely resembles the Nashville Teens hit, with its stop start tempo and Wells’ best harp solo on the album, clocking in at over 5:30.
Buddy Guy – A Man & the Blues
The LP opens with the late-night blues of “A Man and the Blues,” and Guy starts with some fine, stinging guitar. There’s a point in the song where pianist Otis Spann plays this one riff over and over, as if stuck in a trance.
Guy’s take on “Money (That’s What I Want)” turns the Motown classic from boasting to pleading, featuring some fine horns and an incendiary solo as the song fades out.
On “One Room Country Shack,” Guy seems to be channeling something here, as he cries “Lord knows you don’t know how I feel” and then he adlibs “Lord have mercy down in this cottonfield.” Spann & Guy seem to finish each others ideas throughout the track.
Anyone want to know where Stevie Ray Vaughan got his version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” off his debut album? Buddy Guy – he copied this version, almost note for note, and it’s fantastic.
“Just Playing My Axe” steals the riff from the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” for the kind of show stopper that Guy always had in his live set.
Side two features two slow numbers back to back, “Sweet Little Angel” and “Worry, Worry,” with the latter having some of the finest soloing on the entire record. The album ends with the funky “Jam on a Monday Morning,” with Guy directing the band a la James Brown.
The real reason to buy a piece of vinyl is so you can drop the needle on it and let it play all the way through. Both Junior Wells’ Comin’ At You, and Buddy Guy’s A Man & the Blues are solid from start to finish, and would make a great addition to any blues fan’s library.