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Paul Butterfield Blues Band - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (1965) review

Paul Butterfield Blues Band - "The Paul Butterfield Blues Band" (Music On Vinyl, 2013)

Seen in context, this is the album that, way back in 1965, brought the sound of the blues and that of R&B – from the perspective of the club scene operating in the wilder parts of Chicago – to the many, mainly, white ears (to borrow a phrase from The Clash’s many years into the future nugget ‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’) who wanted to listen in, or at least wanted to check out just what was that electrifying sound that lots of folks were beginning to cotton onto; in light of the ongoing success of British-based acts like the phenomenal Rolling Stones, Animals and Yardbirds who had been at pains to give recognition and heap praise upon the original American blues players and writers. So anyway, Butterfileld’s Blues Band were formed around harmonica man and lead singer Paul Butterfield, and his guitarist friend Elvin Bishop, persuading some of Howlin’ Wolf’s rhythm section,including drummer Sam Lay, to join them for some live club gigs. It’s said that Paul Rothschild of Elektra records saw them and swiftly signed them on board. These were the first results of a career that lasted until 1971. The bulk of the lead guitar parts on this debut album, however, were played by new recruit Mike Bloomfield, with Billy Davenport substituting for the ailing Sam Lay, but, nonetheless, what they produced back then hinged upon a fairly robust round-up of such classics of the genre that included the likes of ‘Mellow Down Easy’, ‘I Got My Mojo Working’, ‘Mystery Train’ and ‘Shake You Money-Maker’. Although if I’m being honest , and despite the virtuosity on display, especially the obvious skills of Bloomfield – although I find he overplays sometimes and can be far too overwhelming and bombastic at times – I’d say these are, on the whole, pretty non-extraordinary interpretations compared to some scorching versions heard over the years: The Misunderstood, The Druids of Stonehenge and a few more names besides… ; but that’s what I was meaning earlier about putting things into context …
In addition to these mostly up-beat selections, there are some items of the torturous ballad variety also in evidence, foremost among them ‘Last Night’ and ‘Blues With A Feeling’. For sheer harmonica joy and guitar enlightenment, however, I’d perhaps pick ‘Screamin’ and ‘Our Love Is Drifting’ over any others.

For better or worse, the Butterfield’s definitely pointed the way forward a lot of the time, their song selections wrapped in a great, raw sound blanket, through which one can easily catch a glimpse of the future in some of the extended, San Francisco ballroom-style guitar heroics that occasionally and insidiously slide into the mix. But tiny portholes into what would constitute some strands of US psychedelia aside, I’m still not all that convinced, and find a lot of what’s on offer just that little bit too, dare I say it, pedestrian. Maybe I'd change my opinion on another day, perhaps while listening on a cold winter's night, but at present, on a sunny summer morning...

Review made by Lenny Helsing/2013
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