Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Koko TAYLOR - Old School 2007
OLD SCHOOL, Koko Taylor's first album following a life-threatening hospitalization in 2003, finds the queen of Chicago blues singers in remarkably strong voice throughout. A 12-track set split between familiar covers and solid originals, the album features classic gems from Willie Dixon ("Don't Go No Further") and Memphis Minnie ("Black Rat"), among others, alongside new material such as "Bad Rooster" and "Piece of Man." The band, led by Taylor's longtime foil, guitarist Bob Margolin, cooks throughout, making OLD SCHOOL as vital as any of Taylor's previous albums.
Go ahead and call it a comeback. Despite her advancing years and frail health following a 2003 hospitalization, Old School shows that the Queen of Chicago Blues has no intentions of abdicating her throne just yet. Koko Taylor isn't terribly prolific--this is only her third album in 14 years--but she's also never released a lackluster effort, and this is no exception. As the title suggests, you should be prepared for tough, rugged Chicago blues sung by one of the masters of the genre, regardless of gender. Taylor's legendary booming voice does show some wear, but her husky pipes, wang-dang-doodle attitude, and sheer enthusiasm will convince any skeptics that the singer is far from phoning in her performance. The disc is split evenly between originals and covers of Willie Dixon, Magic Sam, and others, all powered by a gritty yet professional no-nonsense band featuring guitarists Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin and Criss Johnson, along with the harmonica great Billy Branch. Musically, there aren't many surprises, but at this stage Taylor isn't pushing boundaries with her meat-and-potatoes diet of grinding shuffles mixed with the occasional slow blues. Knocking off a tune or two from the hour-long program might have made this a more concise, compact statement, however. Yet with songs as frisky as "Bad Rooster"--possibly an answer to the classic "Little Red Rooster"--and a strutting version of Dixon's "Don't Go No Further," there's no doubt that Taylor remains as passionate and intense as when she was first claiming her crown, nearly four decades ago.
By Hal Horowitz. AMG.
With her first album in seven years, the aptly titled Old School, Taylor once again shows the world what she does so well. From foot-stomping barnburners to powerful slow blues, Koko proves in an instant that her blues are joyous and life-affirming, powerful and soul-stirring.
With Old School, Taylor brings it all back home, supported by a band of veteran musicians and young revivalists. Singing like she did for Chess Records early in her career, Taylor belts out a set of material that could easily have topped the blues charts in the 1950s, and will certainly reach the top of the blues world today.
Koko Taylor, guitarist Criss Johnson and Alligator president Bruce Iglauer produced Old School. Recorded in Chicago, the 12 songs (including five new Taylor originals and songs by Willie Dixon, Magic Sam, Lefty Dizz, and E.G. Kight) all hearken back to Taylor's early years in the Windy City. They range from the humorous truth of Piece Of Man to the rocking blues advice of Better Watch Your Step to the tough street scene of Bad Avenue (done in classic Muddy Waters style), to Koko's version of Memphis Minnie's Black Rat, a song she used to sing as a teenager. "I put my heart and soul into everything that I do," says Taylor. "I worked long and hard on Old School, and I want my fans to enjoy it as much as I do."
Old School is the new release from blues diva Koko Taylor, and just as the CD title declares, it's all about music that's the real deal. The atmosphere takes the listener right back to a simpler yet arduous era in time. As the vocal legend states on the CD liner, "This album is hardcore blues, down in the basement, far as you go. This album is the kind of blues I was listening to down south and when I first came to Chicago." She's talking about 1951. Seated at the back of a Greyhound bus, Koko arrived with no money and nothing but a box of Ritz Crackers. She left behind an existence of hard times and hard labor in the southern cotton fields and farms, only to find herself in a new life that wasn't much easier. However, the Chicago clubs on Saturday nights spurred excitement with the live shows of Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann and others. Frequenting those clubs was her shining light.
An interesting thing about a new release from a seasoned blues veteran such as Koko Taylor, other than Koko herself, is that you know there's going to be some brilliant players on it. Musicians new and old makeup the three bands used to record this collection of old school music. To say there are a few fine guitarists on the CD is an understatement for sure. Brookline, Massachusetts' own Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin, of Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter fame, plays guitar and slide, while longtime Koko Taylor guitarist Criss Johnson, known also for his stints with Roy Buchanan and Otis Clay, plays guitar and shares the Producer role alongside Alligator President Bruce Iglauer and Koko. Vino Louden is on the record as well, Koko's lead guitarist and bandleader for the past ten years, as is Japanese born and bred Shun Kikuta, a well-known player in the Chicago area. Billy Branch's harmonica playing is incredible, and it often contains that James Cotton ruggedness. The piano skill of Brother John Kattke, also a prominent windy city pianist and guitarist, is truly amazing throughout. He adds stylish eloquence to much of the material. I could fill a page naming all of the fine musicians and others involved in making this record, but what's important is that it's Koko Taylor.
Koko invokes the spirit of the Chess Records era once again with five original compositions and seven others in Old School. She's certainly the purveyor of the 'feeling' she has for this fine American music. Without a doubt one of the great living blues icons, it's good to hear that her health problems of recent haven't gotten the better of her, and that she still possesses her potent vocal talent. Albeit it's her first recorded release in seven years, but Koko Taylor proves once again she's still the Queen of Chicago Blues.
Koko Taylor- (Vocals);
Vino Louden, Criss Johnson, Shun Kikuta, Bob Margolin- (GuitarS);
Billy Branch- (Harmonica);
Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff- (Tenor Sax);
Brother John Kattke, Stanley Banks- (Piano);
Melvin Smith- (Bass );
Jimmy Sutton (Bass);
Kenny Hampton- (Electric Bass);
Willie 'The Touch' Hayes, Rick Nelson- (Drums).
01. Piece Of Man 4:30 $0.99
02. Gonna Buy Me A Mule 4:35 $0.99
03. Black Rat 5:08 $0.99
04. Money Is The Name Of The Game 6:48 $0.99
05. You Ain't Worth A Good Woman 5:34 $0.99
06. Better Watch Your Step 4:55 $0.99
07. Bad Avenue 5:20 $0.99
08. Bad Rooster 5:21 $0.99
09. Don't Go No Further 3:39 $0.99
10. All Your Love 6:35 $0.99
11. Hard Pill to Swallow 5:51 $0.99
12. Young Fashioned Ways 4:41