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Music Review: Various Artists – It Ain’t Over! 55 Years of Blues

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It Ain’t Over! 55 Years of Blues is the latest compilation from Delmark Records, Chicago’s pre-eminent blues and jazz records label. Delmark is owned by Bob Koester, who’s the founder and the man still at the helm, steering the course of his creation through thick and thin, good times and bad.

It Ain’t Over! is a just under 64-minute collection of 11 great blues songs by some of the cream of Delmark’s crop that have been issued over the years. Delmark began an increased recruitment of blues musicians in 1965, shortly after releasing “Junior Wells now classic Hoodoo Man Blues, a full-bore blast of modern urban juke joint revelry at its most potent [from liner notes].” Since then, Bob hasn’t messed with success. He’s kept that legacy alive in as many of Delmark’s recordings as possible. Why change a winning recipe? It Ain’t Over! was recorded live March 7, 2008, at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago, which is why you’ll see some of the same players moving in and out of the lineup throughout, including Bob Stroger on bass; Kenny Smith, son of legendary drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, on drums, natch; Roosevelt ‘The Mad Hatter’ Purifoy on keys; and Lurrie Bell on guitar. Is that the first string of current Chicago Blues royalty, or what?

On this CD, Bob features eight different artists from his stable giving their best on juke joint style blues – barebones, stripped down, just enough musicians to get the sound you want and like. Zora Young kicks off this album with “Til the Fat Lady Sings,” a rousing seven-minute-plus number, the longest on the disc, with backing by – drum roll! – Lurrie Bell and Scott Cable on guitar, and Purifoy, Stroger and Smith. With a powerhouse blues belter like Zora Young, you need some cruiser-weight heavies to stand up to her punches, and they’re here, tall and strong.

This booming kickoff is followed by a sad, tear-jerking “Low Low Down,” by Jimmy Johnson. When he sings of the “ice around my heart,” you can feel it. That emotion follows throughout the entire 5:37 of this ballad.

Johnson goes straight into the next cut, an up-tempo “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Whereas both are about love, “Low Low Down” is sung by a man who’s down in the dumps, “You Don’t Know” is by a man in the throes of good love.

Aaron Moore gives us a lesson about “Wading in Deep Water,” backed by himself on barrelhouse piano, and Smith on drums.

Little Arthur Duncan tells us about “Pretty Girls Everywhere,” which, in addition to Duncan’s instantly recognizable voice and harmonica, has some stellar guitar work by Nick Moss, helped out by Rick Kreher, Stroger and Smith.

Then Lurrie Bell sings the lead on “Don’t You Lie to Me,” backed by Purifoy, Stroger and Smith. Shirley Johnson, another blues belter, sings about “As the Years Go By," with Bell, Purifoy, Stroger and Smith. Eddie Shaw gives us “For You My Love," backed by Bell, Purifoy, Stroger and Smith. Shaw does double duty, singing “Sun Is Shining,” too. In a small talk between the two, Shaw rouses the crowd to give a hand to his 40-year friend Koester, calling him “a thoroughbred.”

Tail Dragger comes in as the clean-up pitcher for the last two songs, “Tend to Your Business,” and “My Woman Is Gone.” On “Business,” Tail Dragger’s vocals are complemented by Big D on harmonica, Kevin Shanahan on guitar, and Stroger and Smith. The night’s final selection is backed by Billy Branch on harmonica, Bell, Shanahan, Stroger and Smith.

Unless you’re a Chicago Blues fan, you may not recognize some of these names. That’s your loss, for sure. Google these musicians and you’ll see a veritable Who’s Who of blues stars mentioned with their names, including the Mister Chicago Blues himself, Muddy Waters, and one of the reigning royalty of Chicago Blues, Hubert Sumlin.

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About Lou Novacheck