Elmore James made a career from one slide lick – but oh, what a lick! In his ruthless, overdriven slide work, James’ electrified blues evoke the spirit of Robert Johnson and send a shiver down your spine.
Collectables has collected all of James’ 1959-’63 sides for the Chicago Fire and Enjoy labels, the last songs James waxed before his death in 1963. This three-CD set is packed with 63 songs, including covers of most of James’ hits, several alternates, studio chatter, and unreleased takes. While some cuts may lack the youthful vigor of his early sides, the sound quality is much better – and these are still rowdy, supercharged blues by the master. The only shortcoming is that there are no band lists included.
Icehouse’s tribute to James is a fine idea, but with uneven execution. The hot Memphis label collected previously-released James covers, including Johnny Winter’s frenetic “Stranger Blues,” Dave Hole’s over-the-top “The Sun Is Shining,” Homesick James’ meandering, off-key, 8-minute-long “12 Year Old Boy,” and the Allman Brothers great “One Way Out,” which was actually based on the Sonny Boy Williamson version. Still, there are some highlights, such as Alan Haynes’ scorching “My Bleeding Heart” and the Nighthawks’ “Shake Your Moneymaker.”
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’97 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.