First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2008, Volume 15, #2
Written by John Metzger
Mon February 25, 2008, 10:00 AM CST
While thereís no denying the talent or the importance of James Cotton, proving his merits based upon his recordings for Vanguard in the 1960s is an impossible task. For starters, his tenure with the label was ridiculously brief. Working less in his favor, however, is the fact that it came just as he was beginning to step out from behind the long shadow cast by his boss Muddy Waters. As a result, Cut You Loose!, the only album that Cotton made for the company, hardly was a career-defining statement. Although its material was solid, Cottonís performance was tentative, at best.
Considering that it splits its tracks evenly between those that were culled from Cut You Loose! and those that were plucked from a previously issued compilation entitled Best of the Vanguard Years, itís not surprising, then, that Cottonís installment of the Vanguard Visionaries series is a seriously flawed affair. In short, it does the only thing it possible can do with such limited resources: It highlights the eclectic approach that he was attempting to take with his music.
In addition to his many permutations of the blues, Cotton also was beginning to delve into breezy, West Coast jazz (Negative 10Ė4) and moody, Stax-style soul (the title tune from Cut You Loose!). The problem, however, is that neither his vocal ability nor his leadership skills were as self-assured as they needed to be. Although the sound of his harp laces The Blues Keep Falling with mourning and Cotton Crop Blues with grit, there truly is nothing on Vanguard Visionaries that Cotton didnít do better once he found his footing.
Other Artists Featured in the Vanguard Visionaries Series
Vanguard Visionaries is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box