Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Muddy Waters

  • The Best of Muddy Waters [Chess, 1957]  
  • The Real Folk Blues [Chess, 1966]  
  • Sail On [Chess, 1969]  
  • The London Muddy Waters Sessions [Chess, 1972] B
  • Can't Get No Grindin' [Chess, 1973] B+
  • Hard Again [Blue Sky, 1977] A-
  • I'm Ready [Blue Sky, 1978] B
  • Muddy "Mississippi" Waters Live [Blue Sky, 1979] B+
  • King Bee [Blue Sky, 1981] A-
  • Rare and Unissued [Chess, 1984] A
  • Trouble No More: Singles (1955-1959) [Chess, 1989]  
  • Blues Sky [Epic Associated/Legacy, 1992] A-
  • Paris, 1972 [Pablo, 1997] Neither
  • The Lost Tapes [Blind Pig, 1999] B+
  • Hoochie Coochie Man [Just a Memory, 1999] ***

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Best of Muddy Waters [Chess, 1957]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]  

The Real Folk Blues [Chess, 1966]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]  

Sail On [Chess, 1969]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library]  

The London Muddy Waters Sessions [Chess, 1972]
Howlin' Wolf had the Rolling Stones for his London session, so how come Muddy only got Rory Gallagher, Steve Winwood, Rick Grech, and Mitch Mitchell for his? Maybe because this one was a money gig from the git-go. Anyway, only Gallagher--the sole committed blues player of the four--is exceptional, and Muddy sounds like the aging pro he is. One exception is "Blind Man Blues," with nice backup from Rosetta Hightower. The other is "Walkin' Blues," featuring nobody but Muddy and Sam Lawhorn, who is from Chicago. B

Can't Get No Grindin' [Chess, 1973]
Muddy isn't the commanding presence he used to be, but despite the three instrumentals his writing puts this album across. "Love Weapon" and "Whiskey Ain't No Good" are slow ones he thought about, Willie Hammond's "Garbage Man" and the high-gear "Can't Get No Grindin'" classic shuffles. Come to think of it, one of the instrumentals is a classic shuffle too--you almost forgive him for putting "Dust My Broom" through an electric piano and calling it "Funky Butt." B+

Hard Again [Blue Sky, 1977]
Since the heyday of Chicago blues was midcentury, most of the classic blues LPs are collections of cuts; except maybe for B.B. King's Live at the Regal and Otis Spann's Walking the Blues (oh, there must be others, but let me go on) I can't recall a better blues album than this. The songs run the length of live performances--four of the nine over five minutes--without any loss of intensity, because their intensity depends not on the compression of the three-minute format but on the natural enthusiasm of an inspired collaboration. Waters sings as though his life depended on it, Johnny Winter proves with every note how right he was to want to do this, and James Cotton--well, James Cotton doesn't open his mouth except to make room for the harmonica, which sounds just great. A-

I'm Ready [Blue Sky, 1978]
Not as ready as you were last time, Mud, but don't let it worry you--it's always harder to get hard again again. B

Muddy "Mississippi" Waters Live [Blue Sky, 1979]
Age cannot wither nor Johnny Winter whelm the elan of this boyish man. It may not last forever, though--he really seems to mean "Deep Down in Florida." Sun shines every day, you can play in the sand with your wife, and maybe work on a slow one called "Condominium Blues" in your spare time. B+

King Bee [Blue Sky, 1981]
Can an old man rock the blues? Watch your mouth, punk. His toughest since Hard Again, and his softest. And it rocks like a mother. A-

Rare and Unissued [Chess, 1984]
Waters' greatest hits are so deeply ingrained that these obscurities serve to reawaken your awe--force you to hear his performance, which as countless white bluesmen know is what makes all his music jump out atcha. "Feel Like Going Home," a blues after the manner of Robert Johnson that augments the timing and sonic authority of Waters' guitar and vocalisms with a crucial decade of recording technology, is the sparest and most riveting. But "Mean Disposition" and "Iodine In My Coffee" would be greatest hits today if they'd come out circa 1950, and generics like "Born Lover" and "Little Anna Mae" make me wonder when he cut his ordinary stuff. A

Trouble No More: Singles (1955-1959) [Chess, 1989]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]  

Blues Sky [Epic Associated/Legacy, 1992]
He hasn't quite been reduced to an industry, but the profusion of product since the three-CD Chess Box is transforming oeuvre into catalogue. The luxurious and intimate Folk Singer remaster, the seminal and historic Complete Plantation Recordings dig, even the rare and unexceptionable One More Mile vault-scrape are worthy addenda to said catalogue. But although this selection from his four post-Chess LPs with Johnny Winter may be on the wrong label, it's the one Mud to buy if you're buying more than one. Beat way big, slide and harp all over the place, it reasserts his virility as it establishes his droit du seigneur. In 1983, just after he turned 68, McKinley Morganfield died. In 1980, he was a 65-year-old mother fuyer. A-

Paris, 1972 [Pablo, 1997] Neither

The Lost Tapes [Blind Pig, 1999]
Live Muddys are flooding the market on multiple labels, with differences in quality slighter than they want you to know, but real nonetheless. What makes this well-recorded two-venue combo the choicest has more to do with sound, repertoire, and intangibles of commitment than with changing casts of axeslingers and harmonicats--the big man's basic slide is always what stands out in his bands anyway. Here he is in 1970, reasserting his distance from the just-deceased Leonard Chess's rock dreams--an old-fashioned artist returning to his legendary strengths. By Pablo's 1972 Paris disc he's gotten just slightly complacent; by Just a Memory's 1977 Montreal gig, which has better but more familiar songs, he's relaxed into a seigneurial blues entertainer. Here he still has something to prove--or find out. B+

Hoochie Coochie Man [Just a Memory, 1999]
Montreal 1977-the old man shows off his second drawer and takes some standards to school ("Kansas City," "Nine Below Zero"). ***

See Also