Brewer Phillips

Well Alright

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While blues in Chicago may be healthier than it is elsewhere, there is a distinct variety that has all but passed away into the ghostland of musical history in the 21st century. That strain is the in-your-face good-time raw, rough and ready blues of the city's South Side. Guitarist Brewer Phillips, who passed away in 1999, was best known for the time he spent as a member of Hound Dog Taylor's Houserockers, a band that had two guitarists and no bass player. That's because Phillips' amazing style, one that encompassed rock-solid rhythmic basslines and wild lead guitar runs (with and without a slide), was his trademark. Phillips was an unbridled showman whose love of the music and a good time was infectious. Despite the fact that he only released one solo album, called Homebrew on Chicago's venerable Delmark label, he was a well-established solo attraction at home and on the international festival circuit. Well Alright is a dynamite set of 17 performances containing nine previously unissued performances from his solo career as well as four released during his tenure with Taylor. The rest feature Phillips in the company of notable bluesmen like J.B. Hutto, Louis Myers, the great shuffling blues drummer Ted Harvey, and the mighty rocker and bluesman Cub Koda (full disclosure: Cub was a steady All Music Guide contributor until his death in 2000). Two of these tracks (with Hutto and Harvey) come from a set called Good Houserockin', released as an import. The rest are new, made up of live and studio outtakes. The performance quality is uniformly high even if the audio is a bit flawed on some tracks -- but not so much as to detract from the listening experience. Especially notable are the numerous instrumentals here, such as the unhinged "You Can't Sit Down" and "Magic Rocker," with Koda and the smokin' Boston drummer Leroy Pina. This is a burning set of house-rockin' blues that is familiar and predictable, yes, but not in terms of energy and sheer verve. Phillips took a ton of chances with his own playing, and while he made plenty of mistakes (thank God), his rhythmic sensibility was always spot-on. This is the sound of the original Maxwell Street rolled into the South and West Side clubs and studios, and documents the orgiastic vibe that was part of Chicago's blues tradition. We have precious little of it left.

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