Review: James Cotton – Giant

Posted on: Wednesday, Nov 10, 2010

(Alligator Records: ALCD 4940)

James Cotton is without a doubt one of the most famous bluesmen of all time, and the harmonica legend makes a return to Alligator Records with “Giant”, after releasing a couple of albums in the 1980s with them and being part of “Harp Attack”, in the company of fellow Chicago friends and harmonica giants, Junior Wells, Carey Bell and Billy Branch.

The Mississippi-born master is on top form here, not singing any more, but his harmonica sounding as sweet as ever, with the vocals left mainly to guitarist Slam Allen, and one contribution from Tom Holland, who share the guitar duties. The tight band is rounded off by two of the Neal ‘dynasty’ . . . Noel Neal (bass) and Kenny Neal Junior (drums), with a solitary appearance from  in-demand Ronnie James Weber on bass.

The 12 tracks on offer are a fine mix of some classic Muddy Waters, whose band Cotton was of course in for lengthy periods; together with covers from the likes of Jimmy Rogers and Ivory Joe Hunter, with some band and Cotton originals . . . recorded down in Austin, Texas at Wire Recording and sounding just great!

The opener is a rousing romp through Nick Gravenites “Buried Alive In The Blues”, which hits a lovely mid-tempo groove – Slam Allen is a fine singer and Cotton’s harmonica is on the money! The Allen / Cotton tune “Heard You’re Getting Married” takes the pace down, with some funky guitar lines and again the master’s harmonica on top form. A brace of Muddy Water tunes follow, the sprightly “Find Yourself Another Fool”, and Tom Holland handling the vocal duties on the slow blues of “Sad Sad Day” . . . both hugely enjoyable.

The original “Change” hits a great funk groove, with a return to some serious slow blues on “How Blue Can You Get?”, with Cotton’s harmonica lines weaving in and out of some fluid guitar from Tom Holland – the cd booklet notes kindly tell us which guitar is in which channel. “With The Quickness” is a short and snappy fast shuffle instrumental and a showcase for James Cotton’s mighty harmonica work. – which is just gorgeous on Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You, Baby” . . . a rambling six minutes plus with soulful vocal from Slam Allen.

Cotton and the band doff their caps to another Chicago legend in the shape of Jimmy Rogers on his classic “That’s All Right”, and get into soul territory on “Let Yourself Go”, with more fine grooves from the rhythm section of Messrs. Neal and Neal. “Giant” is dedicated to the memory of the late, legendary ‘Queen of the Chicago Blues’ Koko Taylor, a dear friend of Cotton, and the album closer is for her . . . a chromatic instrumental entitled “Blues For Koko”. James Cotton inherited the nickname “Mr. Superharp”, and it’s a pleasure to report his playing is in fine order!


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