Billy Boy Arnold

Boogie 'n' Shuffle

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At this point in his career, harmonica legend Billy Boy Arnold could just coast on his Chicago blues laurels, rehashing his old tunes and tricks whenever he decides to cut a new album. But fortunately, Arnold doesn't buy into shortcuts, and neither does his producer for this session, Duke Robillard. On Boogie 'n' Shuffle, Arnold really lets it rip -- not only in the John Lee Williamson tradition he's well-known for, but also in the R&B traditions of Ray Charles and Jimmy McCracklin. Robillard's band is certainly up to the task, seamlessly switching from flashy soul grooves ("Home in Your Heart") to lazy Jimmy Reed-styled boogies ("Come Here Baby") to Delta blues barrelhouse ("Greenville"). As for Arnold, he's still yet to prove himself a singer of much power or range (he gets a bit overwhelmed by the busy arrangements on "Just Your Fool" and "Greenback"), but he makes up for it with classy phrasing that can turn a run-of-the-mill 12-bar shuffle into a masterpiece -- the swinging "Let's Work It Out" being the best example here. While Arnold does show off some nice harmonica riffs, this isn't exactly a blues harp extravaganza; three of the tunes are harpless, and the emphasis is clearly on Arnold's singing and songwriting. The bonus track interview offers a colorful, anecdotal history of the Chicago blues scene according to Arnold, with glimpses of John Lee Williamson, Willie Dixon, and the hallowed '50s Chess sessions that produced the Bo Diddley beat.

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