I don't know who is reading this or why. Possibly someone relatively new to the Blues and finding their way through the densely packed forest of Blues cds. Well then, stick with me kid because you've just discovered pure gold.
To be brutally honest, good old Otis Hicks (his real name) is not one of the major talents in the Blues. His songs are often thinly disguised reworkings of other people's. His guitar playing is rudimentary at best. The accompaniment tends to be sparse (usually just drums/percussion and harp). It's about as basic electric Blues as you can get.
But oh that voice. That grainy world weary seen it all and it wuz crap voice which nevertheless winks at you with dry humour not far away.
Lightnin's songs tend to be slow and lethargic but never dull or boring or much over three minutes in length. By contrast his regular harpist Lazy Lester is about as energetic as you can get and you should certainly try him next. Together, however, they weave a magical spell from somewhere down in the Louisiana Bayou where the legendary Excello label (from which these recordings come) lives. The label's other artists are also worth investigating.
There's something utterly charming about these songs in their simplicity and in that wonderfully expressive voice. Not everyone falls in love with Lightnin' Slim but if you do you'll know he's something to be cherished and this cd is a good place to start.
If you do want to hear more, I'd recommended the other Ace compilations which are all fine and present a nearly complete collection of Lightnin's studio recordings. For more information about the man and his music, there is a very fine piece on All-Music Guide's website.
Now, as the man said, "Play that harmonica, son."
If you asked a casual blues fan about who recorded for the Excello label they'd probably mention Slim Harpo and then, maybe, Lightnin' Slim. If you put the same question to a blues aficionado then I'm pretty sure the answer would be Lightnin" and then perhaps Harpo or Lonesome Sundown etc. but Lightnin' would come top. So, how was it that, with such a limited repertoire (and a name that seemed to come second hand from a variety of sources), Lightnin' Slim managed to garner such praise from those in the know?
Well if I can pick up on the comparison with our friends in the North, specifically at the Chess label, whose roster contained at least three "big beasts" in Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson, all men who could fully command a stage. My suspicion, and I could be wrong, is that only Lightnin' in the Excello stable was comparable to these guys. All his records, even at their most simplistic, give the impression of a man totally in charge. This is particularly true on the slow numbers. The notes to this set, which covers from 1955 to 1961, largely give the impression of canny producer Jay Miller giving Lightnin' his head in the studio.
If there was to be comparison with Chicago it's likely to be with the Wolf in his Modern period plus the earlier part of his stay at Chess. i.e. before he and, Guitarist Hubert Sumlin worked up the rich repertoire they're mainly known for. Numbers like "I'm leavin' you baby" and "Somebody knockin'" have a distinct resemblance to Wolf tracks like "Moanin' at Midnight". Elsewhere on this album, on "G.I. Slim" to be precise, there are touches of Chess and Muddy. However in the main it has to be said that these are exceptions, Lightnin' was very much his own man. His take on the slow swamp blues, with near telepathic accompaniment by Lazy Lester on mouth harp plus understated drums (usually from Warren Storm) plus, very occasionally, piano or second guitar, was absolutely masterful. Part of what made it so good was the space he left - his own guitar riff would take you so far - that great voice would then continue - the harp would come in before the second line and so on. Totally predictable but very good every time; it was evidently a formula he relaxed into. And unlike label mate Lonesome Sundown whose slowie invariably signalled doom and gloom, Lightnin' might use his version to continue an intimate conversation in a fairly matter of fact way. I've always rather liked his "My starter won't work" bemoaning a rather critical situation down below.
This set also includes several of the man's better up tempo numbers like "Long Leanie Mama", "I'm tired waitin' baby" with fuller accompaniment than usual, and, "It's Mighty Crazy", a stop-time swamp classic (and don`t delve too much into the subject matter!). "Hello Mary Lee" is the only "poppier" track on the album and was seemingly an attempt to widen his market. Whatever one's feelings about this one, and I find it quite attractive, it certainly doesn't detract from the wealth of excellent material elsewhere in the set.
If some of the foregoing is incomprehensible but you've managed to read this far why not give this set a go? It's as gutbucket a set of electric blues as you're likely to find if you can get past the apparent saminess of some the material.