Having moved from his home in Mississippi to Arkansas and eventually West Memphis, Howlin' Wolf recorded his first sides for Sam Phillips at the Memphis Recording Service between 1951-1953. These important recordings show that Wolf's gruff, Delta-fashioned and piledriving blues style was already intact before he hooked up with Chess for a successful stretch that would continue into the '60s. Featuring the fractured and menacing guitar work of Willie Johnson (equally celebrated axe man Hubert Sumlin would eventually supplant Johnson as the featured guitarist on Wolf's Chicago sides), the pumping piano of Ike Turner, and the ragged-but-right drumming of Willie Steel, the 16 tracks included on this Ace collection are alternate takes of some of the Memphis material originally released by Modern Records. While most of the master takes can be heard on Flair/Virgin's Howlin' Wolf Rides Again, the tracks on Ridin' in the Moonlight are certainly worthwhile, especially for collectors. With his permanently hoarse pipes and sour harmonica in the forefront, Wolf leads the band on highlights like the tittle track, "Chocolate Drop," "Keep What You Got," "Drivin' This Highway," and "Passing by Blues." A highly enjoyable release; newcomers, though, are advised to check out one of Wolf's Chess collections or the Flair album first.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook