When Muddy Waters released his fourth album Folk Singer in April 1964 it received mixed reviews, there was a view of Muddy as the king of the electric blues and the pioneer of Chicago R&B and for him to deviate from that caused those in the fairly conservative music press to deride his efforts. The music press of the day especially in the folk idiom had an obsession with the notion of authenticity without having any real knowledge of where the music had come from and what had driven it's electric development in the 1940's. Of course the album has gone on to receive the acclaim it's due, because it's such an important album in Muddy's discography and an important album for the time.
Initially Muddy was not particularly keen to cut the album, Chess records wanted to capitalise on the growing folk/blues movement in the U.S that had spawned in the coffee houses and universities across the U.S and the seed had also taken hold in Europe, where budding musicians were mesmerised by Muddy's intensity and passion for the blues. The sessions were held in Chicago in September 1963 and featured an incredible line-up of musicians, Willie Dixon on bass and in the producers chair, the inimitable Buddy Guy on acoustic guitar and Francis Clay on drums. The album is basically Muddy unplugged, an acoustic setting that takes Muddy back to Mississippi, the heartland of the Delta is omnipresent on the album. Muddy's voice sometimes low and breathless before this striking volcano erupts in a short burst as Buddy Guy bends the strings in line with Water's vibrato. This album is Muddy's testament to his past it's a very deep and personal record, with Muddy's moans and sighs of reflection. Cold Weather Blues starts of this reflection in low tones as Muddy reminisces of the milder climes in Mississippi as he freezes up north in Chicago. Big Leg Woman has that strutting sound as Muddy moans "big leg woman keep your dresses down" to me is sounds like an acoustic interpretation of the Chicago sound that Muddy had pioneered in the late 1950's.
Country Boy is raw country blues, evoking the spirit of pioneers long gone from Son House to Charley Patton. Buddy plays a menacing slide winging after Muddy's down home vocals, it's a song that resonates with perhaps how Muddy felt when he relocated from Mississippi to Chicago the bright lights of the city must have been a strong temptation to stay out and play all night. Feel Like Going Home was the title to a book Peter Guralnick wrote that focused on the hard road many musicians faced both in the blues and country fields, that same depth and despair that featured in the book is front and centre in this song. Muddy extols how the hours feel like days since his baby has been gone. My Home Is In The Delta is sheer brilliance and was the first song form the album that I heard and I was totally mesmerised by the intensity of Muddy's vocals and Buddy's insistent jagged guitar playing. Drenched in the country blues those plaintive chords floating out over the cotton fields, Francis Clay with light strokes on the brushes adds to the despair.
Long Distance is that familiar blues theme incorporated in countless rhythm and blues songs, Muddy alone and waiting by the phone his mind troubled waiting to hear from his baby. My Captain to me reflects Muddy's early years growing up on a cotton Plantation and the hard labour and hard life that existed for African American farm labourers, the unrelenting work, the poor treatment that they received from white bosses. Muddy's voice is hushed, quavering the words softly rolling out, only buddy is there with those stretched notes reflecting the pain of the period. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is one of those classic songs that just hits you, Muddy is at his lascivious and menacing best. This album came to me as part of a compilation with the album Muddy Waters sings Big Bill which is a tribute album to Big Bill Broonzy which I will review at some point. The first four studio albums that Muddy released were such an important influence on a generation of young musicians who wanted something raw and unbridled, that spoke of their frustration but also of a glowing enlightenment.