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Return to the July 1999 A&E Preview Cover
Arts & Entertainment Preview - July 1999

Popular Music and Jazz
B Y   B O B   B L U M E N T H A L   &   C H A R L E S   M.   Y O U N G

Muddy Waters & Son

    Big Bill Morganfield

The last name of Morganfield will catch the eye of any blues fan, but Big Bill? Who's that? It was McKinley Morganfield -- as Muddy Waters -- who helped to electrify the blues and radiated an astonishing alpha-male authority. When he sang "I'm your hoochie coochie man," nobody was going to contradict him. On Rising Son (Blind Pig), Big Bill Morganfield declares to the world that he is his father's son. In his early forties, Morganfield waited a good long time to make his debut, supporting himself as a teacher for many years. But where rock demands youth and rebellion, the blues thrives on accumulated life experience. Morganfield sounds like he means it, and that might not have been the case if he had just announced "I'm Muddy's son" in his early twenties. Having paid some dues, and having learned how to write songs, he's stepping onto the stage with an earned, as well as inherited, authority. Which isn't to say he doesn't sound like his father. Morganfield has that Muddy growl down, conveying threat, sex, ecstasy, and just plain fun in about equal parts. What's surprising here is how effortlessly his own songwriting blends in with classics by Willie Dixon ("The Same Thing"), Howlin' Wolf ("Baby How Long"), and his father ("Screamin' & Cryin'"). If you've ever been dead-ass broke, then Morganfield's "Dead Ass Broke" will feel like an instant classic. His band swings and throws a large bucket of sweat on the proceedings. If that isn't enough neo-Muddy music, you might want to check out A Tribute to Muddy Waters: King of the Blues (Hybrid). Several cuts above the average tribute album (in fact, all fourteen cuts are above the average tribute album), it brings together such diverse artists as Koko Taylor, John Hiatt, Buddy Guy, Peter Wolf, and the above-mentioned Big Bill Morganfield in a true all-star lineup, backed by the G. E. Smith House Band. They all sound different, and they all sound like Muddy. --C.M.Y.

Six Points of Origin

Chick Corea has worked in many configurations: solo pianist, duo partner with the vibist Gary Burton, leader of the guitar-driven fusion ensembles Return to Forever and The Chick Corea Elektric Band. When he formed the acoustic sextet Origin, in 1997, it was both a variation on the three-horns-and-rhythm configuration that stars like Cannonball Adderley and Art Blakey once deployed so successfully and an overdue opportunity for Corea to exercise arranging talents that have always been overshadowed by his playing and composing. Change (Concord/Stretch), Origin's second album, places greater emphasis on writing than did the extended-blowing tracks from the band's eponymous debut, which only underscores how intelligently Corea assembled this little-known yet supremely talented crew. Steve Wilson and Bob Sheppard are more than just inventive saxophonists (alto and tenor, respectively); they are equally fluent and personal on flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet. With Steve Davis's trombone as the band's brass voice, rather than a trumpet, Corea has the components for the range of fluent, highly arresting colorations that define the ten compositions. The bassist Avishai Cohen and the drummer Jeff Ballard make a rhythm section that is equally inspired, and provides a frame for piano solos that are typically brisk and inviting on first hearing, and reveal more complex and turbulent emotions on repeated listening. The ever-inquisitive Corea is even heard briefly on vibes, although his old friend Burton frequently handles the mallets as a special guest in concert appearances. --B.B.

How Sweet It Is

   Big Sugar

Based in Toronto, Big Sugar has gone platinum in Canada and is now making its U.S. debut with Heated (Capricorn), accurately named because, indeed, it's hot. One of those rare rock-and-roll bands that is both highly original and highly accessible, Big Sugar combines monstrously catchy guitar bashing (the leader, Gordie Johnson, has a profound understanding of the Marshall roar) with dub beats, a booming bass, and a variety of other influences that somehow blend perfectly in the songwriting. It's odd to say that a band that's loud and given to grand gestures amid psychedelic jams doesn't show off, but it's true. Everything's subordinated to the song, much in the spirit of AC/DC. The production jumps right out of your speakers, even at moderate volume, although high volume is recommended for maximum headbanging invigoration. Big Sugar will be touring. Bring your earplugs. --C.M.Y.

Bob Blumenthal is a jazz critic for The Boston Globe.

Charles M. Young reviews popular music for Playboy, Musician, and other publications.

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Photo credits -- Muddy waters: Hybrid Recordings/Sire Records. Big Bill Morgenfield: Mark Smalling. Big Sugar: Andrew McNaughton. Origin: Concord/Stretch.
Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.

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