The Vol. 2 designation of this limited-edition double CD may confuse some people, who might reasonably wonder where "Vol. 1" is. Actually, "Vol. 1" was Rollin' Stone: The Golden Anniversary Collection, which came out as a regular retail release in stores and covered Muddy Waters' complete recorded output from 1947 through September of 1952. Picking up right where that release left off, this much more elaborately packaged 51-track double-CD set captures Muddy at the peak of his game, dominating the Chicago blues scene (and, almost equally so, the national blues dialogue) and bursting with understated confidence and energy -- in his playing as well as his singing -- in the early years. The set takes listeners song by song across the mid-'50s, coinciding with the arrival of rock & roll and the subtle changes the latter caused in even his music -- switching away from playing guitar and turning that responsibility over to younger musicians in the course of trying to compete in a world dominated by ever younger rock & rollers. The producers have done an impressive technical job, the sound on the individual songs being consistently clean and sharp, even if many of the early-'50s masters don't exactly lend themselves to high-resolution playback. They're also offering a large handful of alternate takes scattered throughout the two discs, illuminating Muddy and his band working through some of these pieces to get to the finished versions with which they were happy. The annotation by Mary Katherine Aldin paints a vivid picture of the participants (especially Willie Dixon) and the backgrounds to the individual sessions and songs -- her notes are appended by a very handsome color and black-and-white photo array and a full sessionography. One factor that may cause potential buyers to hesitate on this set is the cost -- as a Hip-O Select release it lists for $50, and that is steep; on the other hand, the listening will keep any serious blues fan busy for quite a while. And given the fact that Muddy Waters only recorded singles in those days -- he didn't do an actual album session until the Big Bill Broonzy tribute LP at the end of the decade -- a set like this is the logical way to absorb his work from this phase of his career.
Hoochie Coochie Man: Complete Chess Masters, Vol. 2: 1952-1958 Review
by Bruce Eder
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2