A glorious showcase of one of the greatest blues bands basking in their element and pushing the envelope of a style convention.
Despite his immense contribution to modern music, Paul Butterfield’s name has become part of connoisseurs lore while general public seems to forget about this artist, and his belated induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 is a sad testament to the Chicagoan’s current status. Yet it takes a single spin of any of Butterfield’s on-stage recordings to remind the doubting Thomases of Paul’s real position in cultural history, and this is arguably the best of such tapes. The oft-bootlegged concert, properly produced for official release on CD and vinyl by the singer’s son Gabriel now, it’s a longer and more free-form alternative to his “Live” album allowing the listener to experience an ensemble blurring the lines between genres to extend blues from the past into the future.
From the very beginning, a delicate interplay between the leader’s harmonica and Ralph Wash’s guitar creates a jazz ripple to imbue the 12-minute “Born Under A Bad Sign” with a previously unfelt drama, and it’s not until the brass rumble is starting to show that the band demonstrate their dynamic might in full. The addition of horn section, whose sax front included David Sanborn, gives the blues on display a jovial jive, so the splashes and call-and-response lift “Play On” off the ground and turn it into a ritualistic dance where roaring vocals become the epitome of emotionality allowed by the stylistic idiom before Rod Hicks’ four strings go for a solo and anchor the flight only to let it loose again.
While “Stuck In The Countryside” reveals a soulful aspect of the ensemble’s delivery, and “Back Together Again” exposes their modern link to traditional boogie, the performances, high on improvisation, reach far and wide. As a result, “Driftin’ Blues” is tightened up and taken for a detour, to everyone’s delight, into a Celtic tune, whereas “The Boxer” is shaped up as a punchy romp of a funky kind. It’s taken to the extreme in “So Far, So Good” – marrying effusive shamanism to meditative reflection and to muscular delight – yet that would be the gist of that band in their prime. Here’s a brilliant reminder of Paul Butterfield’s greatness.