Thursday, June 28, 2007

Old School reviewed by Steve Jones

Old School
Koko Taylor
Alligator Records
12 tracks

When I first heard this album I said to myself, “Koko is back.” It’s been seven years since she’s recorded a CD and she had major medical problems in 2003, but Koko is certainly as physically resilient as her music. From her opening holler on “Piece of Man” to the final Willie Dixon cut “Young Fashioned Ways,” I sat and listened intently to this for the first time as I drove in my car. Then I listened straight through again. And then a third time. I didn't stop. Hell, I couldn't stop. This is one fine album and should be listened to uninterrupted from start to finish to appreciate what Ms. Taylor can still do.
Koko returns to the style and sound of her early Chicago roots with this all-star supported CD. She has basically two mixes of artists supporting (her except on the last song). She labels the studio musician lists as “A,” “B” and “C.” The “A” list is Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin and Criss Johnson playing guitar and alternating solos, Billy Branch on harp, Kenny Hampton on electric bass, Jimmy Sutton sometimes alternating with Sutton on standup bass and Willie Hayes on drums. The “B” list also contains Johnson, Hampton, Sutton and Hayes, while adding Brother John Kattke on piano and Mark Kazanoff on tenor sax. The “C” list for the last track is the Blues Machine, Vino Loudin (guitar), Shun Kikuta (guitar), Stanley Banks (piano), Melvin Smith (bass) and Ricky Nelson (drums).
I was intrigued when this album came out as to how Koko would be sounding. That was pretty much addressed at the start with her tune “Piece of Man.” Then she does another upbeat tune that she penned called “Gonna Buy me a Mule.” By the third cut with Margolin’s dirty sounding slide guitar solo with Koko’s gritty vocals on the Lizzie Lawler/Memphis Minnie tune “Black Rat” I was sold that Taylor is as dominant as she ever was.
I will admit it that Taylors’ pipes are perhaps beginning to show her age, but she can still belt out a song with the best of them and she is in no way ready to give up her role as the Queen of the Blues. Whether covering Magic Sam’s “All Your Love” or her own stuff like “Hard Pill to Swallow” she shows us what she can still do.
In the liner notes Koko talks about her roots picking cotton and then her early days in Chicago. This CD musically returns to those early Chicago roots from over 50 years ago. There is a great photo from around 1954 in Sylvio’s Lounge with Koko, her husband Robert and other family members and friends (including Muddy Waters and Otis Spann).
Koko gives us a great mix of covers and new tunes for well over an hour on this CD. She shows us that she can still strut her stuff on songs like “Bad Rooster” and we should be glad that she still can. This is a fine effort from Koko and the folks at Alligator Records and it belongs in your music collection.

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