Mighty Joe Young
Blind Pig 5040
Young's early use of brassy arrangements and melding of black popular music into the blues pioneered a development that came to dominate blues of the past two decades. After an absence of more than 10 years from the studio, Young's return should be one of the high points of 1997 in the blues world.
As those who have caught Young's occasional club appearances in recent years know, he has yet to recover sufficient feeling in his fingers to allow a return to the form that once made him one of the most imposing guitar players in Chicago. Instead he has continued his musical career primarily as a vocalist. Fortunately, Young has more than enough chops to fall back on. His powerful, elastic voice is capable of delivering the melisma and dynamic shadings of his chosen soul-tinged material. Even as he enters his seventh decade, Young has lost little of his barrel-chested vocal force. What he has achieved at this juncture of his career is a thoroughly updated and complementary musical style.
Assisted by two Chicago veterans, one-time Chess producer Gene Barge and sax player Willie Henderson, who handled the horn arrangements, some of the best sidemen in town, including bassist Bernard Reed, drummer B.J. Jones and Tyrone Davis' sometime tenor sax player Steele Seals, Young delivers an energetic blues/R&B/funk melange. This is not your father's West Side blues, though Mighty Joe's valiant guitar leads on two tracks and the licks of protegé Will Crosby are sure to tease the appetite of those yearning for the past.
Young contributes seven original songs, including a reprise of his minor classic, "Wishy-Washy Woman," featuring a cameo by hired-harp Billy Branch. Save for "Starvation," a statement of contemporary sociology, the material is the man/woman grist typical of the genre. For the listener willing to venture beyond a straight-jacketed definition of the blues and to experience a blended expression of black music, Mighty Man delivers the goods.
-- Jack Oudiz