On Chicago’s south side, Paul Asbell recorded and played with Howlin’ Wolf, Lightning Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, and other legendary greats, including holding down the rhythm guitar chair for the studio side of Muddy Waters Fathers and Sons LP. Moving east, he expanded his scope to work with Big Mama Thornton and folk, soul, and jazz luminaries including Rosalie Sorrels, Curtis Mayﬁeld, Sun Ra, Sonny Stitt, and David Bromberg.
This new album is the third part of a loosely aggregated trilogy, that includes previous albums Steel String Americana and Roots and Branches. Asbell’s originals “Atchafalaya” and “Bound For Adamant” cohabitate gloriously with Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues,” Robert Johnson’s “Four Until Late,” John Coltrane’s “Naima,” and Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” as well as with tunes whose versions by Elmore James, Big Bill Broonzy, and Blind Blake have become indelibly etched in our musical souls.
“I’ll Be Seeing You,” a favorite of World War II era GIs and their sweethearts, is also among the tunes given this remarkable guitar player’s unique treatment. Throughout, Asbell is adept at enhancing the distinct specialness of the familiar versions rather than diminishing them.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’14 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.