Koko Taylor - Old School
I saw Koko Taylor about a year ago in Chicago, dressed in a gold lame jumpsuit and strutting her sassy stuff at the House of Blues. It was one of those corporate events where everyone’s too busy networking to listen to the live talent. Me, I'm the sort of person who can't sit in a piano bar without applauding everytime the pianist finishes a number; I just parked myself with a drink and got lost in the music. How could these people not be mesmerized by this act? I wondered. Here’s a 70-some-year-old woman who’s not afraid to growl and howl and get a little raunchy – in other words, not afraid to sing the blues.
Almost 50 years in the business, and nothing’s managed to smooth down or prettify Koko Taylor’s feisty energy. She's inherited Bessie Smith’s mantle as Queen of the Blues, and she's hanging onto it tight. On her new CD – appropriately named Old School – Koko does her best to take us back to the dingy smoke-filled Chicago blues joints where she hung out in the 1950s with folks like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Her backing band has that gritty sound down just right, with a hammering piano and buzzing guitar; guitarist Criss Johnson peels off some amazing licks indeed. This is a late-night record, the kind that washes down well with cheap whiskey or a cold bottle of beer; if you can get a neon bar-sign blinking across the street, all the better.
The very first track leads off with a bone-shivering primal howl — "Hey, y'all — listen to me / I wanna tell you a thing or two / You can believe it or not / Know what I'm talking about / Every word I say is true." Listening to this CD, I realize how rare it is to hear the woman’s side of the blues — the straight truth about female desire and survival and the price women pay for putting up with men. Who else tells it like this? Bonnie Raitt’s the only other singer I can think of who delivers the same goods.