Lester Davenport

I Smell a Rat

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This sophomore disc from the Chicago multi-instrumentalist (but mainly harpist/vocalist) Lester Davenport follows his solo debut by a whopping 11 years. Although it's impossible to justify the wait, this is a terrific West Side Chicago blues album, confirming he's an under-recognized and way under-recorded musician. Guitarist Jimmy Dawkins (who also produced) adds more authenticity to this rugged album, one that could have been recorded for Chess in the '60s. Well, except for a rollicking instrumental entitled "To Our Lost Ones 9/11/01," and even that ignores its contemporary title, capturing the spirit of Little Walter's glory days. Piano duties are shared equally by Detroit Junior (on tracks 1-7) and Allen Batts (on 8-13). Both play with remarkable restraint, as does the entire band. Even Dawkins, who rides shotgun on the disc, lays back and lets Davenport do his thing. Neither Mad Dog's voice nor his "original" songs are particularly memorable, but the groove captured here is soulful and cohesive -- taut but flexible due to the loose professionalism of the players. The sound is clean yet not slick, and neither the artist nor the label compromises artistic integrity to entice a contemporary audience. This is straight-up/no chaser, hardcore Chicago blues played by pros who prove that even when sticking to a classic format, sparks fly in a conducive atmosphere. Kudos also go to the Delmark label for releasing an album so unflinching in its honesty to keep traditional Chicago blues alive.

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