Howlin' Wolf

Rockin' the Blues

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Collectables could probably do a better job of selling this nine-song CD if they'd indicate somewhere on the outside that it's a live performance from Germany in 1964. That puts it about seven years nearer to Wolf's prime than Chess's official live album (At Alice's Revisited) and makes this 1996 release an indispensable part of any serious blues or classic rock collection. Wolf and his band -- Hubert Sumlin, guitar, Sunnyland Slim, piano, and Clifton James, drums (no credit for the bass player, but he's there) -- open by easing into a loose-limbed instrumental jam. Wolf starts to build up a head of steam on "All My Life," but it isn't until "Howlin' for My Darlin'" that they hit their stride, picking up speed and tension as that voice cuts across the stage, rasping and moaning in a musical mating call -- there are enough wrong notes to notice, but enough intensity not to care. "Dust My Broom" must have been something to see on stage, because it sure sounds from the tape like there's a lot of motion going on, and not just from James' jackhammer drumming. The recording of "Going Down Slow" is the best of several live versions left behind by Wolf; his savage-sounding, spoken-sung performance is a wonder to behold, and it's on performances like this that one can hear what Jimi Hendrix learned from listening to Hubert Sumlin. And just when it seems this disc couldn't get any better, along comes "Shake It for Me," a stage blowout that's sort of Wolf's answer to Muddy's "Got My Mojo Workin'." The 48 minutes of material here is some of best live Howlin' Wolf available, and forms a superb companion to his official Chess live releases while covering completely different material. The sound is exceptionally good, far superior to such recent live Wolf releases as the 1966 Massachusetts show. Only Collectables can say why they don't tell people it's a live recording, but it is out there and worth at least twice as much as they're asking.

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