Mac Arnold’S Blues Revival

Mac Arnold’S Blues Revival
Live at the Grey Eagle

VizzTone

By Karen Nugent
April 2012

There’s nothing better than knowing that whatever track a CD happens to land on, it’s going to be a good song.

So it is with this one; there’s nothing remotely negative to say about this tribute to Chicago blues.

And what else would one expect from someone of Mac Arnold’s caliber? The seasoned West Coast bluesman (originally from South Carolina) has played with everyone from James Brown to Muddy, Cotton, and Riley B. Not only that, while working in Los Angeles with his friend, the late Don Cornelius from Soul Train, Arnold played bass on Sanford & Son, and did production and camera work at film studios.

There’s more. On this disc, a live recording, he is joined by Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds (I nearly crashed trying to read the album cover to figure out who on earth is playing harp here), Bob Margolin, our own Brookline-born guitar legend; and the late Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums.

Margolin and Smith were also in Muddy Waters’ bands, so their styles mesh wonderfully with Arnold’s singing and joshing around. They are backed by Arnold’s regular band, Plate Full O’ Blues, not too shabby themselves.

The frosting on all of this for me is the list of 10 songs: All straight, old school blues (as the title implies), including classics such as “Drivin’ Wheel,” “Big Boss Man” and the always-welcome “Sloppy Drunk.”

The recording was made in 2010 at the kickoff to the annual Corn Bread and Collard Greens blues festival in North Carolina, to benefit a nonprofit organization, www.icandoanythingfoundation.org, supporting arts and music in school. (I mean, really, is this a dream? The story just keeps getting better…)

Arnold began the show with his band, Plate Full O’ Blues, doing some of its own songs, before bringing Margolin, Smith and Wilson to the bandstand for some old-style Chicago blues. The crowd went wild, and the musicians seem to be having a blast.

When Arnold boasts about his seven wives and 20 girlfriends during “Screamin’ and Cryin,’” (a fantastic revival of the old Muddy song), Margolin chimes in with this modern-day quip: “I don’t have seven wives. BUT I HAVE 5,000 FACEBOOK FRIENDS!-- And if I didn’t, I still got my guitar.” He then launches one of his famously delicious Muddy-esque slide solos.

“Ghetto Blue,” one of four of Plateful O’ Blues’ originals on the CD, tells a story about all the blues greats Arnold has met along the way, and it brings back fond memories.

Margolin announces “Sloppy Drunk” as “kind of a love song,” again drawing laughs from the delighted crowd.

Another pleasant surprise is Smith’s vocals on “Big Boss Man.” Besides holding forth as the blues’ best drummer for decades, Willie had a superb singing style.

Other musicians on the disc are Austin Brashier, Max Hightower, Danny Keylon, and Mike Whitt (all from Plate Full O’ Blues) and another very special guest, alto saxophonist Charles Twilley who was reunited during the set with Arnold after 40 years. They were band mates in Arnold’s Chicago days.

The record ends, as one might expect, with “Got My Mojo Workin.’”

Arnold takes the lead vocals again, with Wilson kicking in on harp.

It’s a fitting end to a magical journey back to the heyday of Chicago blues.

If you ever dream of those days—get this disc!

www.macarnold.com

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