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Live at the Avant-Garde
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Magic Sam died at the end of 1969, aged 32, just as things were beginning to take off for him. His recorded legacy was small but included two Delmark studio albums: West Side Soul and Black Magic while several live recordings have since been released.
This CD is a June 1968 concert in Milwaukee featuring Magic Sam, vocals and guitar; Big Mojo Elem, bass and Bob Richey, drums. Over 65 minutes of music including classic songs such as Two Trains Running and I Need You so Bad.
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Ce concert datant de presque 50 ans, le son étant plus que correct, les compositions intemporelles !
Je regretterai toujours de ne l'avoir jamais vu...
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I just had to write something about this fine set so hopefully more Magic Sam/blues fans might find out just how good this set is. Among the currently available live Magic Sam sets this is the best recorded of the bunch by far. Sam's guitar and vocals are close mic'd and are fairly crisp and clean. Bob Richey's drums too are pretty well recorded. But Big Mojo Elem's bass is fairly inaudible. With headphones you can hear his fine supportive bass runs, but it's too bad they aren't a bit higher in the mix. But chalking the sound up to conditions (not the best) and the equipment (second hand), and that nothing could be done about the inherent mix, it's amazing to hear Sam's vocals and guitar in all their glory. So if the bass is a little low, that's okay. This set is rated 5 "stars" because of both the relatively fine recording quality and Sam's subtle yet smoldering performance. Is this the blues reissue of the year?
If you're a fan of Magic Sam (like me) you'll want to add this set to your blues collection. Sam's guitar is a prime example of that West Side sound you could hear virtually any night somewhere on the West Side of Chicago, back when blues was alive, in any number of small clubs and taverns. Just listen to "Don't Want No Woman" for a good example of West Side blues/soul. Sam's vocals are filled with that raw tension and that soulful, pleading tone he's known for. And when you combine his guitar work with his declamatory vocals--well it doesn't get much better than this.
All the songs are in the 4-5 minutes range. And it's that conciseness that gives his performances a vibrancy and excitement found in Sam's two Delmark studio albums "West Side Soul" and "Black Magic". The economy of his solos actually seems to build up a tension that increases through each song. Listen to "It's All Your Fault Baby" or "Come On In This House" to hear how Sam builds up that tension with only a few notes in his relatively short solos. Or listen to Sam's version of Otis Rush's "All You Love (I Miss Loving)"--another highlight among many. His use of his guitar, playing off his vocals to build a song's impact runs all through this set. There's no long drawn out solos that dilute the tension heard in these tunes. This set is the real deal. You'll recognize songs written by Freddy King, Junior Parker, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Rogers, and (of course) Sam Maghett among others.
I've always wondered why recordings this good, of a major blues artist, have taken so many years to see the light of day. Sam recorded relatively little--his Cobra and Chief sides and his Delmark albums (from the same period as this live set) are considered his best albums. The few recorded live albums were marred sonically, so why did something this good remain unheard? But it doesn't matter. There's an authentic energy and period feel of being in the club that runs all through this great set of tunes. Sam's easy going banter with club patrons between songs helps give this set an authentic feel. I've been listening to Magic Sam since the days of the original Delmark vinyl releases back in the late 60's, and this set from the Avant Garde club brings back all the excitement of those first albums from all those years (decades!) ago. Buy this now.
The set list is great, missing some classics each of us fans would like to hear like "I Just Want A Little Bit" (one of my favorite songs of his) but take what we can get! Sam tightly bangs out one great song after another of his own or Chicago blues classic until the end. Just like you're in the club, and very listenable.
As another reviewer Stuart has already mentioned the sound isn't great but perhaps the high end of low-fi, but very listenable. The bass player Big Mojo is hard to hear.
I'm not sure if Big Mojo Elem was the best match for Sam but he's just OK here. He's slightly out of tune and plays in the wrong key sometimes so maybe he didn't
know all the songs or they hadn't played together much. Perhaps he was just having an off-night. They do get their groove on better later in the show.
Fans of Sam's Delmark LPs like West Side Soul and Black Magic will get rewarded. You keep hearing those classic tracks coming on over and over. Collectors will have to accept any decent live Magic Sam they can get into this world, and this one delivers.
For now, the best-sounding official release I've heard so far of live Magic Sam except the two live tracks tacked onto the end of "The Late Great Magic Sam".
Fans or collectors of Magic Sam, or classic electric West Side Chicago blues must add this CD to their collections.
Magic Sam was one of the great Chicago bluesmen of the 1960s. Many of the tracks on this album have been covered by other players (and in the Blues Brothers movies) and so should be familiar to blues fans.
Unfortunately, Magic Sam died young (in 1969, aged 32, the year after this performance was recorded) and his name is not as well known these days as it should be.
This album is just over 67 minutes of great blues guitar and vocal. The bass player and drummer playing behind Magic Sam are very good and the music is well recorded and sounds good. Although this is a live album, the audience noise is minimal; the microphones used in recording this performance seem to have been very unidirectional.
My only complaint about the album is that the guitar is occasionally too prominent in the mix and drowns out the bass and drums. But that's a very minor issue. Some listeners might actually consider the guitar's prominence in the mix to be a very desirable feature, as it allows anyone studying Magic Sam's playing technique to clearly hear everything he's doing.
Overall, this is a first rate blues guitar album by one of the great bluesmen of the 1960s. If you're not familiar with Magic Sam, this album would be a good introduction. If you already know about Magic Sam, this album is well worth adding to your blues collection.
Granted, by today's standards, the mix is a little on the quiet side, and he sings too close to the mic occasionally, but all-in-all, a real gem.
Thanks for letting these tapes see the light of day, Jimmy.