June 15, 2024

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CD review: Magic Slim & John Primer – Slow Blues – 2024: Video, CD cover

The sparks are going to fly when two members of the Blues Hall of Fame join together in sharing their love of the music.

This collection from Wolf Records is taken from the numerous releases that Magic Slim (Morris Holt) and John Primer did for the label, totaling at least 12 albums by each under their own name. The 13 years that Primer spent as a member of Slim’s backing band, the Teardrops, may very well have been the high point of Slim’s legacy.

As the title states, listeners are treated to 16 tracks of late-night, raw unadulterated blues with plenty of feeling, magnified by the slower pace that both guitarists excelled at, particularly in light of the many nights and early mornings they spent together plying their craft in bars and clubs around the world. The format is simple. The playlist alternates as Slim and Primer have equal opportunity to share the spotlight.

The first disc digs in right away with Slim’s rough-hewn vocal and taut guitar licks making “You Put It On Me” a classic example of the Magic Slim style, with his brother Nick Holt on bass and Earl Howell on drums. Primer follows that with a forlorn tale on “1839 Blues,” his life a mess of woman troubles. Stanley Banks on piano does his best to soften his friend’s worried mind. Primer switches to slide guitar for a moving rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Country Boy,” his sorrowful vocal answered by some fine harmonica blowing from Billy Branch. Not to be outdone, Slim is at his best on the chilling “So Easy To Love You,” his measured vocal supported by the outstanding interplay between the two guitar masters.

Another highlight of the first disc occurs on “Bad Avenue,” a staple of Slim’s live shows. The band takes it’s time, setting an unhurried pace that Slim utilizes perfectly, showing the softer side of his playing. “I Wonder Who (Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man)” is from a live show in Vienna in 1994, with Primer backed by Nick Holt and Howell, sounding right at home on another one from the Muddy Waters songbook.

Slim turns in another classic on “Just To Be With You,” an unreleased performance from 1998 with Jake Dawson helping out on guitar. The longest track on the disc, it amply illustrates Slim’s mastery of the slow blues format as a vocalist and guitarist.

Primer was honored last year with his induction into the Blues Hall Of Fame, recognition Magic Slim received posthumously in 2017. Continuing to be a torch-bearer for the traditional electric Chicago blues style he learned from Slim and as a member of Muddy Waters’ band, Primer’s considerable skills were fully formed in 1993 when he lead a group through a mid-tempo take on “She’s Too Much,” with Detroit Junior on piano and Steve Bell on harp. “When I Met My Baby” finds Slim slowing the pace way down, wringing razor-sharp notes from his guitar to ease the pain from life with a no-good woman.

Not to be outdone, Primer digs into the Otis Rush classic, “Double Trouble,” sharing his anguish through his guitar with a stunning opening soliloquy that rides Nick Holt’s deep bass lines. His original song, “I’m A Bluesman,” is another performance seeing the light of day for the first time, recorded live in 1995 in Austria. Primer once again shows off his prowess on slide guitar. The final track under his leadership features the rarely heard Bill Lupkin on harp on a well-played cover of “Take The Bitter With The Sweet”.

The track listing in the CD booklet states that Slim’s searing version of his original, “Don’t Dog Me,” was recorded in Vienna in 2020 which, if correct, make the cut a miracle of the highest order since Magic Slim passed away in 2013. But there is no mistaking his familiar “I ain’t lyin’” interjection nor another dose of a guitar tone that cuts to the core. He finishes off the second disc with Roy Brown’s “Hard Luck Blues,” which certainly serves as a fitting summation of all that has transpired, with Slim eloquently verbalizing the plight of a man down to his last dime, no friends to count on, no place to rest his weary head.

While the thought of wading through over 100 minutes of slow blues might seem to be a stretch for some blues lovers, one listen will remind you that Magic Slim was a master of the music, time after time making you feel the ravages of love gone bad. John Primer’s tracks help remind us about how good he has been throughout his career.

Together, they gift us with a package that honors the real music, unadorned and elemental. It is simple, not always pretty, but guaranteed to burrow deep in your soul.

Slow Blues - Album by Magic Slim & John Primer - Apple Music

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