Studebaker John

That's the Way You Do

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Mention Chicago's Maxwell Street to a serious blues historian, and one is likely to get the sort of enthusiastic response that Manhattan's 52nd Street gets from jazz historians. Maxwell Street played a crucial role in the development of the electric Chicago blues; the Maxwell Street sound became the sound of post-World War II Chess Records. And that classic Maxwell Street sound is what singer/guitarist/harmonica player John Grimaldi, aka Studebaker John, and his group the Maxwell Street Kings successfully capture on That's the Way You Do. This 70-minute CD was recorded in late 2009, but the sound is definitely that of postwar Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. In other words, we're talking seriously lowdown, and Grimaldi achieves that lowdown aesthetic with the help of guitarist Rick Kreher and drummer Steve Cushing (the two other members of the Maxwell Street Kings) as well as Delmark president Bob Koester (who produced the album) and engineer Mike Konopka. If one didn't know better, it would be easy to assume that this disc was recorded 45, 50, or 55 years before it was actually recorded; stylistically as well as production-wise, That's the Way You Do is definitely a throwback to a time when Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Willie Dixon were making their presence felt in the Windy City. The surprising thing is that Grimaldi achieves that classic Chess sound without performing any Chicago blues standards. Typically, bluesmen who are trying to get that type of sound will offer a lot of favorites from the 1950s or 1960s, but you won't find "Smokestack Lightning," "Mannish Boy," "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," or any other warhorses on this CD. Instead, Grimaldi offers original material exclusively on That's the Way You Do, which is totally derivative but in the best sense of the word -- and the spirit of old Maxwell Street is alive and well on this excellent release.

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