Hank Crawford

Mr. Blues/Mr. Blues Plays Lady Soul

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When Ray Charles' musical director has the words "blues" and "soul" in large type on the covers of his own releases, there's a strong chance that's what the listener will find inside. They're definitely there in this compilation that reissues two of altoist Hank Crawford's Atlantic albums from the late '60s. The Mr. Blues set from 1968 is Crawford and a small horn section playing rocking blues riffs with a crack rhythm section. Instrumental R&B doesn't get much hipper. Crawford's tough but lyrical sound -- informed by a bebopper's command and facility -- is tailor-made for this blues-charged music. Highlights include the title track, a cool, finger-popping "Route 66," a sleazy, churning "Lonely Avenue," and a couple of no-nonsense Crawford originals. A middle-of-the road "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)" is the only departure from the set's satisfyingly gritty feel. The concept for the Lady Soul date from 1969 is perfect for Crawford, who typically plays close to the melody, using his great blues feeling and jazz chops to create interest and excitement. Crawford evokes the spirit of Aretha Franklin's music without resorting to literal re-creation of the originals. Arif Mardin's driving, big-band arrangements are impressive, but it is the rhythm section that makes these tracks. Essentially, it's the Atlantic house band: guitarist Eric Gale, pianist Richard Tee, bassist Chuck Rainey, and drummer Bernard Purdie. They all get ample opportunity to show their stuff, especially on the seven-plus minute master blast of the blues, "Going Down Slow."

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