Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Alligator Records: 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin' Music

With a blockbusting 58 tracks, this compilation celebrating 50 years of Alligator Records is certainly a representative tour of the label’s roster over the years.  And what’s most enjoyable about the collection is the way its variety underlines the point that the house of blues has many rooms.
That notion is nowhere better exemplified than on the opening track, ‘Give Me Back My Wig’ by Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers.  This was the very act that gave birth to Alligator when Bruce Iglauer couldn’t persuade his boss, Bob Koester of Delmark Records, to record them, and
Alligator then, with Hound Dog Taylor . . .
Pic by Diane Allmen
so resolved to do it himself.  ‘Give Me Back My Wig’ is an itchy, scratchy, fuzzy piece of business, like a ragged and hyperactive version of ‘The Boy From New York City’ – and it’s a wicked delight.
That sense of getting beyond the obvious is a recurring pleasure across this 3 CD set, whether in the breezy harp instrumental ‘Have Mercy’ by Big Walter Horton and Carey Bell, the piano and horns New Orleans sound of Professor Longhair on ‘It’s My Fault’, with its eccentric yelping vocal, or the stuttering, twitching version of ‘Got My Mojo Working’ by Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown.
There’s a great run of more contemporary tracks on Disc 3 that ventures into several different vibes to great effect, kicking off with the Delbert McClinton-like soulful rock’n’roll of Curtis Salgado on ‘The Longer That I Live’.  Selwyn Birchwood’s ‘Living In A Burning House’ follows, edgy but vibrant, before the old-stagers Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite take things down with the sombre guitar and harp duet of ‘Midnight Hour Blues’.  Then the Cash Box Kings ramp things up again with the smile-inducing, dance-able jump blues of ‘Ain’t No Fun (When The Rabbit Got The Gun)’, as a prelude to the rockin’ boogie of Tommy Castro & The Painkillers’ live rendition of ‘Make It Back To Memphis’.
In between there’s plenty of the classic guitar-led blues style to keep the six-string lovers happy, ranging from Fenton Robinson packing plenty into three minutes on his excellent 1974 re-recording of ‘Somebody Loan Me A Dime’, to Albert Collins showing just how to do a slow blues with ‘Blue Monday Hangover’, to Luther Allison ripping it up on a rollicking live reading of ‘Soul Fixin’ Man’, and on to 2019 with Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram and the big, fat, dirty groove of ‘Outside Of This Town’.
There are female voices too, starting with Iglauer’s early signing Koko Taylor, who groans and rasps her way through the R’n’B of ‘I’m A Woman’.  Marcia Ball delivers a paean to New Orleans
. . . to Alligator now, with Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram
Pic by Rory Doyle
with the cajun-inflected ‘Party Town’, while Shemekia Copeland’s ‘Clotilda’s On Fire’ is a typically bruising piece reminder about the about the slave-traded origins of African-American oppression.  Oh yeah, and Janiva Magness hits her sweet spot on the funky soul of ‘That’s What Love Will Make You Do’.
There are also less familiar names, to me at least.  Another female singer, Saffire, The Uppity Blues Woman, comes up trumps with rattling piano-led accompaniment to her Nina Simone-like pipes on 'Sloppy Drunk'.  Meanwhile The Paladins get shaking on ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me Baby’, which enters on a Hendrixy shiver of guitar before vaulting into the energetic, snare-snapping tune itself.  And Corey Harris and Henry Butler come up with some hand-clapping acapella gospel on ‘Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You’.
There are a couple of stretches when some of those guitar lovin’ fellas seem to be ploughing an all too similar furrow, in contrast to the stylistic variety and quirks of character on offer from other artists.  But there are also plenty of other little gems, too many to name check them all, that make Alligator Records: 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music a more than worthwhile proposition – and also an excellent entry point if you want to explore the Alligator catalogue.

Alligator Records: 50 Years Of Houserockin' Music is released by Alligator Records on Friday 18 June.

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