Otis Rush
Any Place I'm Going
House of Blues 51416 1343 2

In this gone-to-hell world where blow jobs get more press then no jobs and blues fans are too frequently the victims of snow jobs, oh what a blessing to still have the unparalleled excellence of Otis Rush.

Through the seldom thick and all-too-thin past five decades, this troubled genius of the blues has provided some of its most achingly haunting moments. Armed with a voice and guitar style that were blood-curdling in their intensity and passion, a young Rush exploded on the Chicago scene in the '50s with a handful of recordings for the renegade Cobra label that still stand as indispensable masterpieces. Through the years, his well-documented personal misfortunes and tribulations have all too often conspired to dampen his career, and even his brilliant musical comeback of the past several years has been at times overlooked in the glorification of flash and style.

Rush has steadfastly refused to engage in the onstage histrionics that too frequently pass for artistry. Any Place I'm Going is far and away his best effort in several decades, which is to say there's nothing I've heard that can touch it for my album of the year.

Rush has frequently been plagued by lack of control over his recordings and poor production. This was clearly not the case here. The session was recorded in Memphis and was co-produced by Rush and the legendary Willie Mitchell. Rush sounds in top musical form, singing with great energy and conviction and playing torrid, blistering guitar solos. And for once Rush's ferocity is complemented by the first-rate band support gathered by Mitchell, allowing his famous, vibrato-drenched voice to soar powerfully through a set of well-selected songs that include Johnny Taylor's classic "Part Time Love," Marvin Gaye's "Pride and Joy," Little Milton's minor key gem, "Walking the Back Streets and Crying," and Nappy Brown's "The Right Time," as well as reprises of Rush's own "Keep on Loving Me Baby" and the fiercely passionate "Looking Back."

Rush opens with the medium tempo "You Fired Yourself," and from the first bent-note solo it's apparent that this album is going to be something special. (For long-time Rush fans, this instant flush of recognition is guaranteed to bring on a goofy grin). The horn section provides just the necessary rhythmic backdrop against which Rush repeatedly launches into his trademark tortured string solos.

When he tears into a smoldering rendition of "Part Time Love," he sings with an intensity and power that is dazzling. Albert King's classic Stax records are very likely to come to mind when listening to Rush's guitar attack on "I Got the Blues." "Looking Back" has flat-out never sounded this good before on record. Whatever it took, the stars were obviously in the necessary alignment to bring out the enthusiasm and passion that one prays for from an Otis Rush performance.

The title track is a bouncy, hopeful lament written by Rush and sung in a delicate, soulful voice that immediately brings Sam Cooke to mind. Cooke's influence is also felt in the tender cover of his melancholic "Laughin' and Clowning." Memphis pianist Lester Snell contributes softly rippling accompaniment. Finally, the set closes with an utterly desolate "Walking the Back Streets and Crying" that is pure magic. If you can't dig Otis Rush, you just plain can't dig the blues. And this is Otis at his very best.

- Jack Oudiz

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Boulder, CO, USA.