Chicago Blues: A Living History the (R)evolution Continues | Album review
The second volume of the Chicago Blues: A Living History series veers toward the post-Chess rock and roll scene. Despite the legends involved, it’s the lesser local cats who hold it down.
Like 2009’s first volume of Chicago Blues: A Living History, this double album chronicles the history of Chicago blues, from post-war piano jams and the 1950s electric shuffle that established Chi-town to the contemporary tourist scene that balances nostalgia, curatorship and crowd-pleasing. Historic compositions are presented not as archival recordings, but rather as living organisms, performed here by a killer house band with all-star guests. What makes it work are key players with chops and humility. They show off their skills without making the record about them.
While (R)evolution Continues emphasizes rock & roll, with Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry forays, and features big shots like Buddy Guy and James Cotton sitting in, it’s the core of John Primer, Billy Branch, Billy Boy Arnold, Lurrie Bell and Carlos Johnson that makes the recording a truly historic jam session. These were the cats building the post-Chess blues scene in town, playing sideman, gigging unglamorous Wednesday nights, teaching classes and defining “Chicago blues” for musicians and fans over the past 35 years.
The appealing hometown flavor carries over to the lyrical content—while mercifully skipping “Sweet Home Chicago.” We do get the giddy jump of Jimmy Rogers’s “Chicago Bound,” Lurrie Bell’s counterpoint, “Got to Leave Chi-Town,” a song about the stockyards and Zora Young belting out a tribute to our crooked politicians. But the most pointed Chicagocentric moment comes courtesy of Ronnie Baker Brooks, who laments, “When I play my blues on the North Side, everybody wanna report it / When I play my blues on the South Side, my people won’t support it.”