James Cotton

Cotton Mouth Man

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Blues harp maestro James Cotton was 77 at the time of this album's release. He can barely sing anymore, and the years of playing and touring have left his voice a hoarse croak, but make no mistake, he can still play the harp, and his stunning, overdriven blasts on the instrument are as powerful and as immediate as ever. He's the living embodiment of the Chicago blues, and one of the genre's last surviving founders of it, having mentored with the great Sonny Boy Williamson, and he recorded, played, and toured with Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, cutting his first sides at the age of 19 for Chess Records. He's done this a long time, and as this delightful, joyous, stomping, and vibrant set shows, he doesn't need to sing to command the stage. Cotton wrote or co-wrote most of the songs here with the album's producer, Tom Hambridge, and the vocals are handled by guest artists, most of them by Darrell Nulisch, the former Texas Heat and Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets vocalist who has been handling the singing duties for Cotton's band for some time now, but Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, Ruthie Foster, Delbert McClinton, and Keb' Mo' are also featured singers. But this isn't one of those duets albums that artists make in the twilight of their careers by any shot -- Cotton is amazing on these cuts, his harp blasts full of passion, power, and enough pure energy to light up the night sky. Cotton may not do somersaults on stage anymore, but his harp lines do, weaving in and out of these songs like a charging Chicago freight train. There isn't a single lame cut here, but the closer, "Bonnie Blue," with Cotton croaking out a moving vocal accompanied only by his harp and the resonator guitar playing of Colin Linden, is particularly poignant. Cotton may be cruising in on 80 years of age, but he's just released one of the best albums of his career.

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