Various Artists
The Songs of Willie Dixon
Telarc Blues 83452

Whether his songs have been covered by jazz artists like Mose Allison, bluesmen such as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, or rockers like Van Morrison and the Doors, Willie Dixon’s compositions have transcended time and musical genre to stand as some of the finest blues works of the past fifty years. So why gather an all-star cast to record a tribute album by playing Dixon’s well-known gems again? Easy — it feels good.

From the opening chords of "Spoonful," with its soulful guitar work by Doug Wainoris, to the closing track, "I Just Want to Make Love to You," with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the whole disc rings true. The backing band is made up of seasoned players who have worked with blues legends like Pinetop Perkins, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Eddie Shaw soars on sax, working out on "Do Me Right," and contributes his gritty vocals to "I Ain’t Superstitious." Calvin "Fuzz" Jones is impeccable on bass, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith kicks on drums, Jerry Portnoy’s harp sizzles and David Maxwell grooves hard on piano.

Along the way, Dixon’s songs are given heartfelt interpretations by the impressive cast of guest stars. Kenny Neal’s spare, spirited reading of "Bring It on Home" gives the song a down-home feel, while higher-energy songs like "When the Lights Go Out," with John Mooney on vocals, evoke the spirit of Dixons early days at Chess Records. Deborah Coleman offers a tasty vocal turn on "Good Understanding," and Tab Benoit does an equally fine job on "Mellow Down Easy."

It’s easy to dismiss tribute albums, but this is one set that works thanks to the unity achieved by the band. These veteran players have paid their dues in full, and its evident in their performances. In this case, Willie Dixon has been given his due.

— John Koetzner

©2000 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA