Memphis Slim

Legend of the Blues, Vols. 1-2

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The legendary Chicago pianist who moved to Paris in the early '60s didn't record much in the States afterwards, but this set, captured in 1967, finds him back in the U.S.A. supported by a sharp four-piece of blues and jazz veterans. The 20 tracks were originally released on two albums and have been in and out of print throughout the decades, so their appearance here on a single platter should be welcomed by Slim's many fans. It's a relaxed affair that shows a typically low-key Slim in splendid form aided by backing musicians who ease into the standard blues groove but can turn up the heat when needed. The first ten selections are credited to Slim, but many are reworkings of standard blues classics with different titles and slightly altered lyrics, likely to get Slim a few more dollars and eliminate the need to pay royalties. Therefore, the opening "Little Lonely Girl" is nothing more than a cover of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" with a few words changed. On some tunes like "Ramble This Highway" ("Key to the Highway"), Slim doesn't even revise the lyrics. Regardless, this is a cool gathering that benefits from experienced players going through their paces with easy-rolling finesse. Chapman aka Slim starts off the second album with the socially conscious "Freedom," a slow burner that sizzles with a jazz-blues bass lick and some of Slim's most emotional singing. He swings through the upbeat "A Long Time Baby" displaying his boogie-woogie chops and talks his way through the story-song "Only Fools Have Fun." Unfortunately, the vocals distort sporadically during the last ten songs, which is either a function of BGO's botched remastering or an anomaly present in the original recording that could not be removed. Either way it's distracting, but not enough of a hindrance to dissuade Memphis Slim followers from enjoying this genial, charming session that is a welcome addition to his thick catalog.

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