This review was originally published in the Phoenix Blues Society's Blues News in 1996. All three discs are still in circulation.
The name “Motown” certainly needs no introduction to any music listener. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you’ve obviously been in a coma for the last 35 years. But what everyone doesn’t know is that Berry Gordy and company made some fine blues recordings over the years, most of which were never released until recently.
Luther Allison has been one of the hottest names on the blues scene in the last two years now that he’s finally ventured back to the motherland from his self-imposed European exile. His two albums on Alligator have been nothing short of terrific, and I’ve been told that his live shows are absolute killers. Allison recorded three albums for Motown’s Gordy subsidiary from 1972 until 1976, and this collection pulls together the best 17 cuts.
Allison’s style really hasn’t changed substantially over the last 25 years, with the same hard-drivin’ West Side Chicago style influenced by Magic Slim. The absolute best cut here is a slowed-down version of “Cut You A-Loose,” taking what is normally a three-minute tune and turning it into six minutes of West Side blues heaven.
Allison takes the well-worn classic “Dust My Broom” and turns it into his own almost psychedelic guitar wank which will have you wishing the song lasted more than just under three minutes. You’ll get that extended time on Luther’s cover of Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby”; here his guitar solo sounds similar to the later sound of Son Seals.
For a bit of variety, “K.T.” is a James Brown-like soul number with a great horn section backing him up. From Allison’s later Motown sessions comes the slow blues “I Can Make It Thru The Day (But Oh Those Lonely Nights),” which spotlights his soulful, gritty vocals.
The Motown Sessions is a wonderful addition to Luther Allison’s discography.
Not as essential, but still a nice collection of tunes, is Amos Milburn’s Motown recordings made in the early '60s. I was a little wary when the writer of the liner notes admitted that these recordings paled in comparison to Milburn’s earlier classic Aladdin recordings. But it’s still an enjoyable disk, as Amos includes remakes of hits like “”Bad Bad Whiskey,” “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer” and “Chicken Shack Boogie.” A rare treat on the latter tune is a chromatic harmonica solo by 12-year-old Stevie Wonder.
Blue Evolution includes cuts by six different artists, including a few selections each from the above albums by Allison and Milburn. Most notable are three previously-unreleased 1963 recordings by New Orleans guitarist Earl King, including the sensational “ A Man And A Book.”
There are also six cuts from the obscure Sammy Ward, who had a great soulful, churchy voice. Be sure to check out his versions of “Part Time Love” and “Someday Pretty Baby,” the latter again featuring the boy Wonder on harmonica.
Judging from the quality of these recordings, it’s too bad that Motown didn’t venture further into the blues business. But it’s nice that these CDs have now been made available.
--- Bill Mitchell
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