"Best of the Vanguard Years" by Junior Wells is filled with personal, political and romantic tunes. Essentially a sampler album, you are treated to the best of Wells. Every original song is now a standard, and every standard he plays became his.
Upbeat in many places, but firmly rooted in soul and classic blues, Wells steers the vocals and his harp firmly through Buddy Guy's guitar. Born Amos Blackmore, you'll see that Wells wrote most of the tracks, with Guy pitching in on "Slow, Slow" and "Shake It Baby."
His tribute to John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, considered the first great blues harmonica player, is four minutes of a passionate, prayer-like call to a lover while he honors his mentor.
Wells' rendition of Willie Dixon's "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," could've been sung back in the 40s. He rips the lyrics so well that you forget Dixon isn't there. When George Thoroughgood sang "Bad to the Bone," I'm certain he used this as a template for both the riffs and words.
"(I Got A) Stomach Ache," is one of the standouts on the CD. Sung playfully, Wells has the vocal meter perfectly in line with Guy's picking.
"Rock Me Baby" will be familiar. BB King made his signature, but you can hear Wells' harp-intense original. BB does it well, but don't miss this one.
"Slow, Slow" is just that. He takes us down long, stretched notes, with a gentle drum providing the background. Turn it up to get the nuances, especially some of the guitar picked behind the song.
In his 1966 release "Vietcong Blues," Wells makes a statement against the way America was treating soldiers and their families in the early 60s.
"My landlady said you got a letter here
And I began to sing the blues
It was from my brother
Don't you know the boy's laying down in Vietnam
Lord they say, you don't have no reason to fight baby but
Lord knows you think you're right"
I fully recommend "Best of the Vanguard Years" Junior Wells.