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She's still the Queen of Chicago Blues
on May 17, 2007
Old School is the new release from blues diva Koko Taylor, and just as the CD title declares, it's all about music that's the real deal. The atmosphere takes the listener right back to a simpler yet arduous era in time. As the vocal legend states on the CD liner, "This album is hardcore blues, down in the basement, far as you go. This album is the kind of blues I was listening to down south and when I first came to Chicago." She's talking about 1951. Seated at the back of a Greyhound bus, Koko arrived with no money and nothing but a box of Ritz Crackers. She left behind an existence of hard times and hard labor in the southern cotton fields and farms, only to find herself in a new life that wasn't much easier. However, the Chicago clubs on Saturday nights spurred excitement with the live shows of Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann and others. Frequenting those clubs was her shining light.
An interesting thing about a new release from a seasoned blues veteran such as Koko Taylor, other than Koko herself, is that you know there's going to be some brilliant players on it. Musicians new and old makeup the three bands used to record this collection of old school music. To say there are a few fine guitarists on the CD is an understatement for sure. Brookline, Massachusetts' own Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin, of Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter fame, plays guitar and slide, while longtime Koko Taylor guitarist Criss Johnson, known also for his stints with Roy Buchanan and Otis Clay, plays guitar and shares the Producer role alongside Alligator President Bruce Iglauer and Koko. Vino Louden is on the record as well, Koko's lead guitarist and bandleader for the past ten years, as is Japanese born and bred Shun Kikuta, a well-known player in the Chicago area. Billy Branch's harmonica playing is incredible, and it often contains that James Cotton ruggedness. The piano skill of Brother John Kattke, also a prominent windy city pianist and guitarist, is truly amazing throughout. He adds stylish eloquence to much of the material. I could fill a page naming all of the fine musicians and others involved in making this record, but what's important is that it's Koko Taylor.
Koko invokes the spirit of the Chess Records era once again with five original compositions and seven others in Old School. She's certainly the purveyor of the 'feeling' she has for this fine American music. Without a doubt one of the great living blues icons, it's good to hear that her health problems of recent haven't gotten the better of her, and that she still possesses her potent vocal talent. Albeit it's her first recorded release in seven years, but Koko Taylor proves once again she's still the Queen of Chicago Blues.