Tuesday, November 6, 2007
No. 223: Howlin' Wolf
Band: Howlin' Wolf
Album: Howlin' Wolf (The Rockin' Chair Album)
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of the blues genre's greatest performer's second album is a tour de force of the genre's top tracks. He tears through classics like the Willie Dixon classics "Wang Dang Doodle," "The Red Rooster," "Spoonful" and "Back Door Man" as well as his own "Who's Been Talkin'."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There isn't a lot of variance, but there's also not a lot to argue with. Howlin' Wolf was both a literal and a figurative huge figure over blues.
Best song: "Spoonful" is great no matter who plays it, but it sounds even better by Chester Arthur Burnett.
Worst song: "Howlin' For My Baby" isn't awesome.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely. In fact, it's better than "Moanin' in the Moonlight."
Howlin' Wolf's musicianship and Willie Dixon's writing are pieces of this album that really set it apart. It was early in his career, but Howlin' Wolf was a fully-formed bluesman by his second Chess album. Howlin' Wolf's vocal and guitar work are unparalleled on this record. His, well, howl on "Who's Been Talkin'" is more powerful than any rock singer could produce.
"Wang Dang Doodle" has an arrangement fuller than anything should have for a record this old. The whole of the easy twang of guitar and the honky tonk piano is basically perfect. Howlin' Wolf's take on the Dixon classic "Spoonful" is more laid back, but, like "Who's Been Talkin'," his voice takes the cake as for the "most important part of the song." His whiskey-stained vocal track echoes the muted guitar line on the chorus as though he was born to the guitar.
Dixon's songwriting is, of course, well-recognized, but Howlin' Wolf does the songs justice like no one else does. Tragedy, love and loss all fill the songs.