"The room was small and smoky and hot and loud."
I just had to write something about this fine set so hopefully more Magic Sam/blues fans might find out just how good this set is. Among the currently available live Magic Sam sets this is the best recorded of the bunch by far. Sam's guitar and vocals are close mic'd and are fairly crisp and clean. Bob Richey's drums too are pretty well recorded. But Big Mojo Elem's bass is fairly inaudible. With headphones you can hear his fine supportive bass runs, but it's too bad they aren't a bit higher in the mix. But chalking the sound up to conditions (not the best) and the equipment (second hand), and that nothing could be done about the inherent mix, it's amazing to hear Sam's vocals and guitar in all their glory. So if the bass is a little low, that's okay. This set is rated 5 "stars" because of both the relatively fine recording quality and Sam's subtle yet smoldering performance. Is this the blues reissue of the year?
If you're a fan of Magic Sam (like me) you'll want to add this set to your blues collection. Sam's guitar is a prime example of that West Side sound you could hear virtually any night somewhere on the West Side of Chicago, back when blues was alive, in any number of small clubs and taverns. Just listen to "Don't Want No Woman" for a good example of West Side blues/soul. Sam's vocals are filled with that raw tension and that soulful, pleading tone he's known for. And when you combine his guitar work with his declamatory vocals--well it doesn't get much better than this.
All the songs are in the 4-5 minutes range. And it's that conciseness that gives his performances a vibrancy and excitement found in Sam's two Delmark studio albums "West Side Soul" and "Black Magic". The economy of his solos actually seems to build up a tension that increases through each song. Listen to "It's All Your Fault Baby" or "Come On In This House" to hear how Sam builds up that tension with only a few notes in his relatively short solos. Or listen to Sam's version of Otis Rush's "All You Love (I Miss Loving)"--another highlight among many. His use of his guitar, playing off his vocals to build a song's impact runs all through this set. There's no long drawn out solos that dilute the tension heard in these tunes. This set is the real deal. You'll recognize songs written by Freddy King, Junior Parker, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Rogers, and (of course) Sam Maghett among others.
I've always wondered why recordings this good, of a major blues artist, have taken so many years to see the light of day. Sam recorded relatively little--his Cobra and Chief sides and his Delmark albums (from the same period as this live set) are considered his best albums. The few recorded live albums were marred sonically, so why did something this good remain unheard? But it doesn't matter. There's an authentic energy and period feel of being in the club that runs all through this great set of tunes. Sam's easy going banter with club patrons between songs helps give this set an authentic feel. I've been listening to Magic Sam since the days of the original Delmark vinyl releases back in the late 60's, and this set from the Avant Garde club brings back all the excitement of those first albums from all those years (decades!) ago. Buy this now.