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CD REVIEW -- Junior Wells & The Aces



Junior Wells & The Aces,

 Live in Boston 1966


Junior Wells CD

By Mark Baier

Delmark, Chicago's preeminent Blues and Jazz imprint, has been documenting America’s musical heritage for well over 50 years. In 1965 they released Junior Wells’ groundbreaking LP Hoodoo Man Blues. It was the first long playing album for Wells and almost overnight it transformed him from a blues circuit veteran known from urban juke boxes and club appearances to an international star. Along with Buddy Guy, Wells provided young white rock music audiences with a taste of first generation electric blues, a music that the harp maestro had a hand in creating in the early ’50s. Now 45 years later, Delmark has reached into the archives and pulled out a jewel-in-the-rough with Junior Wells and the Aces, Live in Boston 1966. Recorded September 16 at Club 47 in Cambridge, MA, it finds Wells accompanied by the band that fueled his early 45s for the States label: Louis and Dave Myers on guitar and bass with Fred Below on drums. With these “Aces” behind him, Wells was in the comfort zone and these intimate recordings reveal a confident and playful artist obviously having fun with the material and his audience.


Live in Boston has the feel and sound of a well-made fan recording, with the ambiance and chatter of the club’s patrons evident throughout the CD. It kicks off with “Feelin’ Good,” a shufflin’ boogie in the Magic Sam vein, with Wells improvising a tale of urban swagger. The band performs like a well-oiled machine, adapting to Wells’ twists and turns in the phrasing and rhythms on the fly. Though the liner notes don’t go into excessive detail, the choice of the Myers brothers and Below may have been based on their availability relative to Wells’ regular band circa 1966.


            The improvisational nature of each performance adds to the relaxed mood of the CD. Wells and the Aces work their way through a number of classic tunes, pulling from the songbooks of Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Maceo with “Man Downstairs” and “Worried Life Blues” along with the Muddy Waters classic “Got My Mojo Working.”  An extended version of Freddie King’s “Hideaway” allows the band stretch out and showcase their instruments at length. Of course, Wells’ own hits are featured as well, though not as prominently as might be expected, with “Junior’s Whoop” and “Messin’ with the Kid” nestled in between the frequent intra-song patter that Wells engages in throughout the recording. Unfortunately, while this interaction with the audience is interesting, it is superfluous to the music. It certainly adds to the intimacy of the recording, but doesn’t contribute anything particularly essential to the enjoyment of the material.


Despite its shortcomings in sound quality and impromptu performance, Live In Boston serves as a very satisfying journey into the Blues vaults, leaving the listener wondering what else might be gathering dust deep in the archives at Delmark’s inner sanctum. (Some unreleased Earl Hooker perhaps? Hint, hint.)  The existence of this type of material has long been known to Blues insiders and it’s a blessing that Delmark has released this historic recording of Junior Wells in his prime. It is worthy of mention that Delmark has presented this recording in a first class, tri-fold CD with some great photos and excellent liner notes by Scott Dirks. It’s a “must have” for Wells fans and highly recommended for blues devotees in general. This CD rates 4 stars (out of 5).

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