Willie Mabon

Rainy Night in Georgia

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In some ways this brief live solo set may be the truest introduction to Willie Mabon, since his jazz roots show through more, particularly in his piano playing, and his vocals, which were never the steadiest (although they always had attitude), seem to take on a special poignancy in this solo context. If this makes it sound like Mabon is a lounge act, forget it, because no amount of makeover could ever accomplish that, and once he starts blurting and blasting on his racked harmonica, it's clear that this man had both feet solidly in the blues. Highlights here include the smooth, rhythmic grace of the opening track, "Klickety Klock," Mabon's raspy, earnest vocal on his version of "Rainy Night in Georgia," and the fractured biographical details of his biggest hit, "I Don't Know." Mabon closes the sequence with an homage to Louis Armstrong, singing "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "That Lucky Old Sun" with an approximation of Armstrong's trademark rasp, managing to be both compelling and irritating at the same time, which, come to think of it, pretty much sums up the odd appeal of this eccentric R&B trailblazer.

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