Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band – Hoodoo Man Blues Delmark DL-612 (1965)
In conversations about the best electric Chicago blues albums, Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues is bound to come up. Sometimes only Magic Sam‘s West Side Soul also contends for that title. The relatively small number of contenders is partly because blues music as a genre was never particularly successful in the full-length album format. During the genre’s numerous peaks, singles were more common. While maybe a couple of songs here are just so-so (“Hound Dog”), most of this is absolutely spot on. This manages to maintain a consistent mood throughout while still changing up the tempo and attack just enough to keep it interesting — like the way the snappy opener “Snatch It Back and Hold It” gives way to the slow, smoldering follow-up “Ships on the Ocean.” Buddy Guy is on guitar, and he gives this a sleek, urban sound that recognizes the role that rock music was playing in supplanting the old prewar style of acoustic blues, particularly in the way he occasionally plays choppy riffs. Wells is in great voice. He is a harmonica player, but his sing-speak vocals come first. The recordings are produced in a smooth and warm way that give this a snap and crispness, while still keeping a chugging bottom end with the bass and drums prominent. It gives so many of the songs a kind of almost minimalist space that is a key to keeping the mood going. That mood is one of sly sophistication. Kind of like the way hip-hop music in the mid/late 1990s developed an emphasis on the “east coast mastermind” persona, Wells goes for some kind of forerunner one (timed just after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the legal end of the Jim Crow era) that emphasizes more of a lothario role, or something that approaches a cunning, “schemer” persona. Whatever it is precisely, he brings across a kind of intimate, feisty independence that is the epitome of charismatic “coolness.” This is one of the best electric blues albums around.