Blues with a Feeling is a two-CD, 40-track compilation which makes the perfect audio bookend to The Essential Little Walter (or the single disc The Best of Little Walter for those on a budget) by systematically combing the Chess vaults and rounding up the best stuff. No bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings here; this compilation effectively renders all '70s Euro vinyl bootlegs null and void, both from a sound and selection standpoint. While not as exhaustive as the European nine-CD retrospective (in and out of print as of this writing), there are still things on this compilation that are left off the box set on Charly. The rarities (including the low down "Tonight with a Fool," possibly the rarest Walter Checker single of all and one whose title never shows up in the lyrics) are all noteworthy by their inclusion. But the alternate takes are the real mother lode here; everyone of 'em has got some kind of major screw-up to 'em while showing Walter's penchant for putting a new spin on a tune every time the engineer hit the record button. Like Charles Brown's "Drifting Blues," where he decides to start up his solo by playing the bump and grind part from "Night Train," leaving the entire band in the dust trying to figure out what changes to play once Walter changes his mind, or "Blues with a Feeling," where halfway through his solo the chord on Walter's harp mike unexplainably shorts out, just crackling away like a bowl of Rice Krispies. Or "You're Sweet," where he mangles the first line of the vocal ("you sweet, as any apple on a fruit") thus immediately relegating it to the unissued file, regardless of how great the solo in the middle is. By far the most interesting instrumental here is the previously unissued "That's It" (formerly only a discographical sighting) where Walter honks mind-altering stuff that I've never heard him do anywhere else on record. The alternate of "My Babe" doesn't sound anything like the hit version, making it another minor revelation while the storming uptempo reading of "Going Down Slow" -- with the track fueled by a particularly nasty riff courtesy of Robert Jr. Lockwood, whose acerbic comments punctuate the liner notes throughout -- is a prime candidate for the repeat button mode on the CD player, featuring the groove from Hell that refuses to abate.
Bottom line is, this is one very cool release that even I've-heard-it-all-before hardliners are gonna want to add to their collection. Little Walter was a blues genius and once you've absorbed the influential hits, here's exactly where you go next to get the rest of the story.