Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Best of Big Maceo: King of Chicago Blues Piano (Arhoolie, 1992)

Although Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and the rest of the Chess Records stable get most of the attention when people think about Chicago blues, the musicians of the generation preceding them where just as influential. Those men included the original Sonny Boy, harmonica ace John Lee Williamson,as well as guitarist Tampa Red, and pianist Big Maceo Merriweather. Maceo played at a time where the guitar hadn't quite become the dominant instrument in the blues and his storming two-fisted instrumental "Chicago Breakdown" would lay the groundwork for the next generation of pianists like Sunnyland Slim and Otis Spann. The collection also includes a Maceo performance that would become a standard, the deeply thoughtful lament "Worried Life Blues." He had a wise and knowing vocal delivery, that made him an excellent storyteller, whether remaking Robert Johnson on "Maceo's 32-20" or laying down stomps like "Big Road Blues." It would be a mistake to write Maceo off as a mere transitional figure, he was a valuable bluesman of considerable skill and deserves a place in the Chicago pantheon. This is a fine introduction to his recorded legacy.

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