Unk in Funk

Muddy Waters

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Unk in Funk Review

by Lindsay Planer

The nine sides on Unk in Funk (1974) are among the last newly recorded material that Muddy Waters (vocals/guitar) would issue during his nearly 30 year association with Chess Records. Backing up the Chicago blues icon is a band he'd carry with him for the remainder of his performing career, including Pinetop Perkins (piano), Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson (guitar), Bob Margolin (guitar), Calvin "Fuzz" Jones (bass), and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (drums). They run through a better than average selection of Waters' classics with newer compositions more or less tossed in, presumably to keep the track list fresh. Although Waters certainly has nothing to prove, he attacks his old catalog with the drive and command of a man putting it all on the line. That same spirit of quality and authenticity shapes his umpteenth overhaul of "Rollin' and Tumblin'," as Waters' guitar -- the only time he plays on the whole platter -- rekindles his singular sounding fretwork. Demonstrating why they were suitable rhythmic foils for Waters, Jones and Smith's gritty timekeeping perfectly holds down the slinky methodical groove churning beneath the update of "Just Had to Be with You." This allows the artist a chance to let loose with some inspired vocal improvisations. The bouncy frolic of "Trouble No More" and the vintage Chicago R&B vibe of "Drive My Blues Away" offer the most authentic presentation of Waters then and now. While the newer songs, "Katie" and "Waterboy, Waterboy," reveal that the ol' mule still has a bit of kick in him yet. "Electric Man" is one of two cuts by Amelia Cooper (Waters' granddaughter) and Terry Abrahamson, typifying the style of self-aggrandizing lyrical plodding over generic blues changes that had marred several of the blues legends' later efforts. All is not lost, however, thanks to some playful interaction between Waters and harp blower Carey Bell Harrington. Cooper and Abrahamson's other contribution -- "Unk in Funk" -- shares its credit along with talent agent Ted Kurland. Again, while the sentiment is well-intended, the playing is marginalized with little to no substantive territory gained.

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