First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2004, Volume 11, #12
Written by John Metzger
Just as Jimi Hendrix transformed Bob Dylanís All Along the Watchtower into a veritable tour de force, Johnny Winter put his own unique Texas-born stamp upon Highway 61 Revisited. Fitted with a rampaging rhythmic groove ó one which Dylan himself later would adapt for his own concert renditions of the tune ó as well as a string of searing slide guitar licks, the song served as the centerpiece of Second Winter, an 11-song, three-sided album released in late 1969 that many still consider to be the finest studio effort of Winterís career. Indeed, save for a trio of adrenaline-soaked, but otherwise unremarkable interpretations of tunes by Little Richard (Slippiní and Slidiní and Miss Ann) and Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode), there was nary a misstep on the collection, which largely featured a thunderous display of blues, rock, and psychedelia that sounds as fresh and inspired today as it did when it was originally released. In particular, a cover of Percy Mayfieldís Memory Pain was rendered as a raw, blistering meltdown of blazing guitar, while the frenzied assault of keyboards and electric mandolin that graced Winterís Iím Not Sure as well as the heavy turbulence that propelled Dennis Collinsí The Good Life offered further proof that Second Winter was anything but a sophomore slump. Even the famed guitaristís own compositions ó the rousing swing of I Hate Everybody, the rapid-fire charge of Hustled Down in Texas, the burning bite of I Love Everybody, and the improvisational freak-out of Fast Life Rider ó were marked improvements over those on his self-titled debut.
In addition to the pair of studio outtakes ó a sturdy romp through Louis Jordanís Early in the Morning and a Booker T and the MGís-meets-Ray Charles instrumental cruise through Lowman Paulingís Tell the Truth ó that have been appended to the recent reissue of Second Winter, the albumís reincarnation also includes a second disc of mind-blowing material, which was taken from a concert at Londonís Royal Albert Hall in April 1970. Full of raging energy, the 72-minute event highlighted Winterís ability to reinterpret his material with extraordinary skill and endless imagination. The scorched earth, screaming guitar solos that fueled Sonny Boy Williamsonís Help Me; the stampeding, almost out of control fury that provided the thrust for Johnny B. Goode; and the onslaught of pyrotechnics that colored J. B. Lenoirís Mama, Talk to Your Daughter merely set the stage for what was to come. The slow, churning cover of B.B. Kingís Itís My Own Fault erupted with an anguished cry as Winter sprayed notes that fell like tears upon the rumbling groove provided by his backing band, while Mean Town Blues became a showpiece for the guitarist, who not only unleashed a blast of incendiary riffs over the songís chugging cadence but also seamlessly interjected into the proceedings a portion of Robert Johnsonís Walkiní Blues. Elsewhere, Edgar Winterís Frankenstein was given a thorough thrashing, J. D. Loudermilkís Tobacco Road began with a flurry of scat singing before settling into a steamy swirl of saxophone and guitar, and Tell the Truth exploded in an exhausting exhibition of funk-blues mayhem. Like many astoundingly proficient instrumentalists, Winter has struggled, at times, in his career to find the balance between the emotional and technical aspects of his performance. The concert at the Royal Albert Hall is the epitome of perfection in this regard. That it took this long to unearth is a shame, but at least, now, itís available for all to hear.
Second Winter [Original Album] ó
Bonus Materials ó
Second Winter: Legacy Edition ó
Second Winter [Legacy Edition] is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box