Willie D. Warren


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Before his death in December 2000, Detroit blues icon Willie D. Warren was a stalwart on the local scene following his 1975 move from Arkansas via Chicago to the Motor City. He was woefully under-recorded, but on this live recording with the backing band Mystery Train featuring electric guitarist Jim McCarty (ex-Mitch Ryder, Cactus, the Rockets, and Detroit Blues Band member), Warren shines in the spotlight. His experienced, enjoyable voice and spare guitar signify this music -- cool and cooler, refined and authentic. McCarty is joined by three exceptional blues cats: keyboardist/bassist Rick Stel, harmonicist Kenny Welk, and drummer Will Leonard. Stel and Welk are particularly sensitive and substantive additions to the real blues mix of this club date. Of the nine cuts done live at the Firehouse (there is some afterthought overdubbing), every other one is a slow, low-down number. Charles Brown's "Driftin' & Driftin'" and James B. Oden's "I've Had My Fun" pulse with organ, the latter for a long ten minutes with lengthy guitar musings from Warren and McCarty. The Willie Dixon classic "Hoochie Coochie Man" stands up with patient fervor, while the highlight, Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby," is downhearted as can be, with Welk's harp talking back to Willie D.'s vocal, which is quite reminiscent of Paul Butterfield. The more uptempo numbers include Warren doing "Hello Detroit," talking about leaving the South for the North over the melody of Jimmy Smith's "Back at the Chicken Shack." A mojo boogie take of Sir Mack Rice and Albert King's classic "Cadillac Assembly Line" is the neatest twist to an old standard, and a loping version of "Kansas City" features Warren's soulful, almost crooning voice with Stel's piano urging him on. The easy swing of "Baby Likes to Boogie," with a meaty but thinly sliced solo from McCarty and great piano fervor from Stel, and the closer, Little Milton's "The Blues Is Alright," both show how this music is directly jazz-related, and vice versa. As much of a firebrand as McCarty is capable of being, he lays low for this performance, letting Warren do the driving. It was a good move, for Willie D. could more than handle the job. There is a low-level buzz throughout, but it does not detract from this high-level set by one of the Midwest's true blues treasures. Recommended.

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