By Chris Wheatley
Some combinations, it seems, make for natural success. Veteran bluesman Kim Wilson’s return, after a gap of seventeen years, to M.C. Records for new album Take Me Back (released worldwide this October 9th) reunites a pairing which previously resulted in two Grammy nominations (for the albums Smokin’ Joint and Lookin’ For Trouble). Take Me Back is Wilson’s first solo album since 2017s Blues and Boogie Vol 1. Seasoned blues fans will need no introduction to the renowned vocalist and harp player, whose work with the Fabulous Thunderbirds alone would be enough to secure him a place in the history books. Muddy Waters cited Wilson as his favourite harpist and the past years have seen collaborations with Peter Frampton, Mark Knopfler, Buddy Guy and a whole host of A-lister’s.
This album was recorded ‘live in the studio’ in mono at BigTone Studios. Surely the perfect setting for any roots player, BigTone specialize in live-to-tape recordings, using authentic classic equipment, mics, pre-amps and limiters. We get a generous sixteen tracks on this release, a mix of standards and Wilson originals, with a band line-up including guitarist/producer Kid Andersen (himself, a former collaborator with the great Charlie Musselwhite), fellow harpist and bass-player Troy Sandow, blues/reggae guitarist (and Alligator Records alumni) Rusty Zinn and the soul/blues expert Marty Dodson on drums.
“You Been Goofin’” bounces out of the speakers, a slow-tempo, hard-hitting bar-room blues, with some lovely, rasping horns, and a palpable ‘live’ feel which instantly transports the listener back to the classic era of the 40s and 50s. It is amazing how vibrant the track sounds and surrendering yourself to the mix is a delight. Close your eyes and you could be in the front row of a smoke-filled saw-dust joint. Some great, languid, hard/easy guitar and shuffling drums back Wilson’s trademark fine, fine vocals; a smooth tone and delivery with a biting edge.
Take Me Back, reminiscent of so many legendary R&B/Blues albums, treads a lot of ground. “Slow Down” is a joyous, bopping stomper of a song. This is Fats Domino/Clarence Gatemouth Brown territory, with jumping drums, vocal whoops, ringing riffs and swooping horns. A real floorboard-shaker. “Strange Things Happening” is a murky, swampy outpouring of Delta blues. Wilson’s harmonica is remarkable, slick and razor-sharp, an alligator of a sound, graceful and menacing. Wilson’s original songs are just as impressive, and fit seamlessly into the set. “Strollin’” does just that, softly swaggering down sun-baked roads, with prickly guitar. The track is largely driven by a stream of wailing harp and works beautifully.
The magic in these cuts lies not only in the superb musicianship and gut-wrenching production, but in the subtle nuances of style which each of the musicians brings to the table. Listen closely and you will hear doo-wop guitar lines, rockabilly accents and even some be-bop vibes woven into the hard blues. Music is a living thing and even the seminal blues legends were magpies, incorporating glittering nuggets from other genres into their craft. Wilson et all bring the same ethos to these sessions. Take Me Back is unmistakably classic blues, but there lies within a welcome freedom of expression and a pure sense of fun. Throughout it all, Wilson’s voice is the beacon which leads the assembled players home.
“Money, Marbles and Chalk” serves up a thick slab of slow, slow goodness, down and dirty with tinkling piano and stinging guitar. Another Wilson original, “Out of the Fryin’ Pan,” brings us back to high-energy jump-blues, kicking up a raucous whirlwind. Throughout this set, the band are in top form. Dodson’s drumming, in particular, is mesmerizing, deceptively simple and always on-point. With such an eclectic mix of talent in such an environment, it’s no wonder that Wilson states: “To say that these recording sessions were enjoyable experiences would be a vast understatement!”
Watch the Album Teaser