Koko Taylor

What It Takes: The Chess Years

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This single disc neatly collects everything of importance that Chicago blues belter Koko Taylor released through Chess and its subsidiary Checker label, presenting a thoroughly enjoyable, collection as historically important for Taylor's sizzling performances as it is for Willie Dixon's sublime compositions and sympathetic production. Those who know these formative years from Taylor's immortal "Wang Dang Doodle" will thrill to realize that the classic isn't even the best entry here. It's a toss-up as to which others challenge it, but "What Came First the Egg or the Hen," with Dixon joining in on vocals, is in the running, as is the absolutely chilling "Insane Asylum," where Dixon interestingly kicks off the song before Taylor appears over a minute later. The producer/bassist/songwriter/singer pens all but one of the 18 songs. Of those, Taylor takes sole songwriting credit on 1964's "What Kind of Man is That?" and covers J.B. Lenoir's "Good Advice." The latter is an unusually pop-oriented moment that she still roughs up with her usual dynamic vocal attack. Taylor tackles politically charged territory in "Bill, Bills and More Bills," one of the few times that the material leans in that direction. While her later Alligator years might have exposed her talents to the world and helped crown her Queen of the Blues, this is where it all started. It shows how Taylor developed, with assistance from Willie Dixon over this fertile, seven-year stretch, to her well-earned legendary status.

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