Muddy Waters' tribute LP to his late mentor William "Big Bill" Broonzy, which originally came out in 1959, is currently available only in this twofer-package with Muddy's acoustic "Folk Singer" album from 1964.
That's a shame, not because "Folk Singer" is a bad album which nobody in their right mind would buy, but because the latest CD reissue of "Folk Singer", which features several bonus tracks, is better than the one which takes up half of this CD.
But serious Muddy-fans will want to get it anyway. Subtitled "The Songs Of Big Bill Broonzy", "Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill", is a brief affair, only half an hour, but Muddy's electric recasting of Big Bill Broonzy's usually acoustic numbers is generally very effective.
Recorded in stereo with harpist James Cotton, piano player Otis Spann, guitarist Auburn "Pat" Hare, drummer Francis Clay, and bass player Andrew Stephenson, "Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill" was originally issued on CD in 1986, but this 1998 remastering outclasses it by a mile. It restores the resonance of the rhythm section, and Muddy's powerful voice leaps right out at you.
Highlights include "Just A Dream", a wonderfully tough rendition of "Tell Me Baby" (tremendous vocal by Muddy), the swaggering slow grind of "When I Get To Thinking", the muscular shuffle of "Baby I Done Got Wise", and of course the classic "I Feel So Good".
But there are really no "lowlights" here. The music is perhaps a little too mannered for its own good...it's very tight and structured, and a bit more recklessness would be quite nice. But there is nothing wrong with Muddy's performance at all, and Otis Spann and James Cotton are (obviously) top-notch, even if they don't get to shine quite as brightly as I would have liked on these relatively short numbers.
The drumming of Francis Clayton, on the other hand, is exceptionally powerful and rather more prominent in the mix than on most 50s blues recordings.
New liner notes are provided, along with a reprint of the original LP jacket, and while there is no session information (bad record company!), the notes do provide insights into the thinking behind the two albums and Muddy's approach to them, as well as the mixed critical reaction at the time. Apparently younger (white) blues fans felt that Muddy Waters' renditions of Bill Broonzy's songs were "inauthentic".
That the "Folk Singer" album is presented in reverse order is weird (side two of the original LP comes before side one), but the Beat Goes On label's mastering on those nine tracks is excellent, bright and punchy.
I always though that "Folk Singer" would have worked better if Muddy had done a few more up-tempo songs, and the arrangements are sometimes too lean, causing a couple of these v-e-r-y slow song to almost stall (Muddy's earliest recordings were actually considerably tougher).
But it's not a bad record by any strecht of the imagination, and even though the 15-track MCA/Chess reissue is significantly better, the original nine-track LP had a lot going for it as well.
The slide guitar-driven numbers "Country Boy" and "Long Distance Call", and the lively take on "Good Morning Little School Girl" are the best, but "Folk Singer" also sports good versions of "You Gonna Need My Help", "Feel Like Going Home", and "Big Leg Woman" are quite nice as well, if a bit too similar in their approach.
Get it. For "Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill" in particular.