Sonny Boy Williamson II

Portrait of a Blues Man

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This is the first of two albums originally recorded while Williamson was on tour of Europe in 1963. The other was a sort of unplugged album before it's time, with just Williamson on vocals and harmonica and M. T. Murphy on acoustic guitar; on this one he's joined again by Murphy plus drummer Billie Stepney and a superb, albeit uncredited, pianist. Some of the performances, including the wry and funny "Movin' Down the River Rhine" feature just Williamson himself, reminding you once again just how much music it's possible to get out of an unamplifed harmonica and a tapping foot. The album has been edited so that Williamson's off-hand, almost stream-of-consciousness narrative ramblings provide weirdly effective segues between songs. Other highlights include the autobiographical "The Story of Sonny Boy Williamson" (whose historical details probably need to be taken with a grain of salt) and the hard-rocking "Chicago Bounce," on which our mystery piano man takes some exceptionally fluid solos.

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