If you haven't heard The Wolf aka Chester Burnett before, he is kind of a peer of Muddy Waters, in that the early Chicago sound is a kind of bridge between the more primitive country/delta sound and what the blues would evolve into with the next wave of Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Albert King and the like. It's generally lighter on horns and quite unlike the sweeter jump/big band sounds of a B.B. or T-Bone.
Howlin' Wolf employs more variety in his sound than Muddy, more prone to pushing up the tempo or dropping a latin rhythm in here and there. I'd categorize Howlin' Wolf's music as rather on the heavy side for this genre and era and that's reflected in a lot of what came after from those he inspired over in the world of British rock.
His voice is an almost cartoonish growl. He also occasionally howls (much like the titular animal). His voice is a big, primal thing of wonder.
Hubert Sumlin on guitar is also something of a big deal, not overly flash like those that came after, but always interesting and melodic, supporting the song with tasty, economical licks.
There are two prominent compilations ('Absolutely Essential' and 'Blues From Hell') currently occupying the top of an Amazon search for this artist. Both are considerably cheaper and also boast maybe an additional ten tracks. So why buy this? Well as somebody that owns all three, permit me to elaborate.
Firstly, sonically this is better. Both of those collections are mastered really hot in my opinion. 'From Hell' in particular gives me real ear fatigue. This sounds natural and open, definitely not pristine though, and you can't expect that from source material of this era.
Secondly, those albums like a lot of 'grey market' stuff just hammer together 70 or 80 tracks, often front loaded with the hits and with little thought to sequencing. A lot of old blues/R&B stuff was singles so the original albums presented here are still singles collections really, but are better flowing, better curated and presented in digestible sittings; rather than having twenty plus tracks to a side!
Lastly, presentation. The replica CD-sized card sleeves are very nicely done indeed, although they do make up for the slightly naff external box that holds them.
Overall then, this might be the best bang for buck way to get hold of a slice of prime Wolf. If you want the audiophile sanctioned set look for the Chess Box. It's discontinued and usually priced to exploit that fact sadly. I've also seen pictures of it and it's about as big as the man himself!
For a shorter compilation with great sound, also consider the offical Chess 'Genuine Article' which is excellent.
If you just want to spend pocket change and are looking at the other two I discussed, I don't mind 'Absolutely Essential' but do not hugely rate 'From Hell'.
You won't be disappointed in this one though, and I have the Muddy Waters equivalent arriving tomorrow, I can't wait!
For a streaming taster, listen to:
Howlin' For My Darling
- Audio CD (28 July 2017)
- Original Release Date: 16 November 2018
- Number of Discs: 5
- Format: Import
- Label: DOL
- ASIN: B071GNKZYT
- Customer Reviews: 12 customer ratings
Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
44,963 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
- #81 in Chicago Blues