Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, & James Cotton
Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down
(Epic / Legacy)
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2007, Volume 14, #6
Written by John Metzger
Tue June 5, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
They certainly don’t make ’em like Muddy Waters anymore. These days, they also don’t make concert tours quite like the one that is showcased on the latest Waters-oriented set Breakin’ It Up, Breakin’ It Down. As the story goes, Waters took to the road in March 1977 to support his then-recent endeavor Hard Again, a magnificent effort that had succeeded not only in reinstating but also in extending his vast legacy. Guitarist Johnny Winter (who had spurred Waters’ rebirth) and harmonica player James Cotton (one of Waters’ longtime cohorts) shared equal billing and stage time with the legend, and backing the entourage was a stellar cast that included pianist Pinetop Perkins, guitarist Bob Margolin, drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, and bass player Charles Calmese. While other shows boasting such an enormous amount of star power have a tendency to sound prepackaged and polished, these performances were energetic and inspired, and since there were no attempts at one-upmanship, it was easy to discern the close camaraderie of the participants. To put it simply, the material on Breakin’ It Up, Breakin’ It Down captures old friends doing what they love — getting down and dirty with the blues.
Although Breakin’ It Up, Breakin’ It Down may have been culled from three different concerts, it plays as if it is a fully cohesive entity. Mirroring the ambience of a live performance, particularly one that hasn’t been confined to a script, the album begins in a solid, if unremarkable fashion as Waters and his pals raggedly charge through a fusion of Winter’s Black Cat Bone and Elmore James’ classic Dust My Broom. In fact, the early portion of the set is marked more by the vocalists’ playfulness (Caledonia) and their passionate delivery (Waters’ reading of Can’t Be Satisfied) than it is by the instrumentalists’ fiery exchanges.
As Breakin’ It Up, Breakin’ It Down progresses, however, the ensemble loosens up considerably, and as it begins to take more risks, the music grows increasingly intense. Both Caledonia and the slow, smoldering Dealin’ with the Devil are premonitions of the collective’s late-inning fireworks display, but the real turning point occurs during the double punch of Jackie Brenston’s Rocket 88 and John Lee Hooker’s I Done Got Over It. The former cut concisely offers a bristling blend of blues, soul, and rock — the kind that, in recent years, Van Morrison has adopted as his own — while on the latter tune, Cotton’s relentless harmonica solo spurs the guitarists to begin working their magic. By the time the group rolls into J.B. Lenoir’s Mama Talk to Your Daughter, it has picked up a full head of steam, and the final trio of tracks (Love Her with a Feeling, Trouble No More, and Got My Mojo Workin’) provide proof of just how volatile the chemistry among Waters, Winter, and Cotton was. Breakin’ It Up, Breakin’ It Down could have used a few more moments that are as exhilarating as these, but overall, the outing does a nice job of documenting an historic summit of blues giants. ˝
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box