Blues Bytes

Surprise

January 2016

Bob Margolin
My Road
VizzTone Label Group

Bob Margolin

Bob Margolin has had a long and storied blues career, notable in the early phase as guitarist with the Muddy Waters Band followed by many years as a bandleader and recording artist. After recording albums for esteemed blues labels like Alligator and Blind Pig, Margolin decided to do his own thing. Needless to see, he's had a pretty darned good career, with more years to follow. My Road (VizzTone Label Group) is his latest. He's backed here by his usual sidekicks --- Chuck Cotton on drums and Tad Walters on harp and guitar. Not much of a singer early in his career, Margolin has turned into a very effective vocalist with his earthy, baritone pipes. It compliments his consistently top-notch Blues guitar work.

Most of Margolin's recordings tend to be somewhat autobiographical about life out on the road and the trials and tribulations of making it as a blues artist, and this one seems just a little more so. He starts out with an original song, "My Whole Life," on which he talks about stepping up to the bandstand and saying that "my whole life led up to this" and later reflects "With every note I play there are 50 years of shows, two millions miles of highway and the passion just grows, it brings good folks together, there's nothing that I miss." Walters blows some mean harp throughout this song, especially on a solo towards the end of the tune. Margolin continues the tune by singing, "Blues has been my teacher for everything I've learned, the bandstand is my workplace for everything I earned, I hope my blues will move you, six thousand or just six, but either way I know my whole life led up to this."

Another number on which Bob sings about his blues life is "Young and Old Blues," on which he reflects on different perceptions of age with different experiences during his performing career, belting out lines like, "The road is tough but so am I" and "Do my blues move you tonight, or am I just history?" Margolin kicks in some tasty guitar licks between choruses, reminding us that he's still one of the best guitarists on the blues scene today.

"Goodnight" is a touching slow blues performed solo by Margolin, an emotional farewell to someone from his life who has passed on.  "Goodbye is just not right, so I'll just say goodnight."  Plenty of emotion coming from both his voice and his guitar.

"Understanding Heart" is a mournful tune with snaky slide guitar from Margolin and chromatic harmonica from Walters. Margolin pleads with the listener by singing, "An understanding heart, the key to the door of love, an understanding love, to bear these blues and rise above."

While more than half of the songs here are band originals, there are also some well-chosen covers. Margolin worked off and on for many years with the late blues singer Nappy Brown, helping the singer get back in front of blues audiences. He does a loving tribute by covering one of Nappy's songs, "Bye Bye Baby," featuring very nice harmonizing by Margolin and Cotton while Walters backs them on harmonica. No guitar or drums here --- just their voices and the harp accompaniment.

Another great cover, "Feelin' Right Tonight," had me reaching deep into the distant memory banks before recalling that the song was done originally by D.C.-area rockabilly cat Tex Rubinowitz. This version is slower and less frenetic than Tex's original, with Walters' harmonica accompaniment giving it a more bluesy sound. I recall when Walters was just a youngster starting out his blues career, and he's certainly matured into a fine artist in his own right in the past 20 years.

Margolin honors the late Sean Costello by doing one of Sean's compositions, "Low Life Blues," which details the composer's own difficulties in his blues life before dying from an accidental drug overdose at 28. This one features a great harp solo by Walters along with steady drumming from Cotton.

Closing this fine disc is a classic example of Margolin taking us on a blues trip about as deep as we can go. It's a Terry Abrahamson composition, "Heaven Mississippi," on which he mentions many long-gone musicians all coming together in a a bluesman's version of Heaven. Even Robert Johnson is found in this version of Heaven, walking side by side with the Devil. Certainly an appropriate choice to close out this trip down Margolin's road, especially as he breathlessly repeats the chorus line, "In Heaven Mississippi, the Blues will never die," to finish the song. .

After nearly 50 years of playing the Blues, Margolin should be bestowed with the "icon" title. He's not just a link to many blues artists now gone from this world (moving on to Heaven Mississippi, obviously), but continues to breathe new life into the genre. Be sure to follow Margolin down his own personal Blues Highway by repeatedly listening to My Road. You won't regret it.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

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