Tuesday, September 18, 2007

No. 153: Moanin' in the Moonlight

Band: Howlin' Wolf
Album: Moanin' in the Moonlight
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Remember how I talked about blues standards? Yeah, Howlin' Wolf played the original versions of many of them. And they're here.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Blues was more of a live genre than one to be recorded. As such, Howlin' Wolf's first recording session was when he was 42 years old.
Best song: "Evil" and "Smokestack Lightning" are fantastic.
Worst song: "Moanin' for My Baby" is OK, but not awesome.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

Howlin' Wolf's voice is gritty and guttural. A huge man (300+ pounds and 6'6"), he supposedly commanded a room like no one. The thin production on "Moanin' in the Moonlight" doesn't do him the justice he deserves (his self-titled record shows his voice better), but the simple blues scales and hard-edged guitar are nearly unparalleled.

There's a reason he's considered one of the greatest: The template in film/TV of the gritty-voiced, wise bluesman is largely based on him. Along with Willie Dixon, Chess Records and Muddy Waters, he made Chicago the blues capital of the world.

"Evil" is powered by a fierce piano and harmonica duo in the middle of the song while Howlin' Wolf encourages the players. When his voice comes back to sing after the duo, his true blues colors show. The cynicism in his voice backs up the classic blues theme; The witch woman who has messed with the man's heart. It's a nearly perfect Chess blues song.

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