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CD REVIEW -- Mud Morganfield
GLT blues radio

MUD MORGANFIELD

They Call Me Mud

Severn Records

12 tracks/56:44

Mud Morganfield CD

by Greg Easterling

 Being the son of a legendary musical figure is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing if you are endowed with a measure of the same talent. It’s a curse though if you are expected to either merely imitate or actually innovate on the same level. So whether your last name is Allman or Williams, Coltrane or Ellington, Dixon or in this instance, Morganfield, it’s an issue that’s always there. On his latest Severn Records release, They Call Me Mud, Mud Morganfield, son of blues legend Muddy Waters (a.k.a. McKinley Morganfield) takes several approaches.

 

There’s the up-tempo big city blues with horns that most closely resembles the classic groove of B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland. You hear that in the title track when Morganfield makes his bluesy positioning statement and also in many of the album’s 12 tracks. But he also covers several of his father’s songs, not necessarily famous ones in which the vocal resemblance to Muddy is inescapable. Performed in the Mississippi Delta-derived electric blues pioneered by Muddy in Chicago, it’s obvious that Mud is the son of his famous father although he was raised in the Windy City by his mother without the daily presence of Muddy at home. Playing in the classic style of his father is something that Morganfield does extremely well but he’s already recorded a Blues Music Award nominated effort. For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters,  which features Kim Wilson from the Fabulous Thunderbirds, earned a nod for 2015 Best Traditional Blues Album Award. So there’s no need to keep making the same record each time out.

 

Now in his mid-Sixties, Morganfield needs his own sound that is not a direct imitation of Muddy Waters. And it’s not like Morganfield has been playing his whole life. A truck driver by trade, he started performing on Chicago’s South Side after Muddy’s death in 1983. One only wonders what Muddy would think if he could see his son playing now.

 

So Mud wisely handpicked all the players on the sessions because he knew they could help him achieve his musical vision. He and Rick Kreher co-produced the disc, assuring that Mud’s unique identity would be stamped on every track.

 

Since Mud plays bass on several songs, he avoids instrumental comparisons with his father who was one of the seminal electric blues slide guitar innovators. On this album, Morganfield lets his father’s onetime sideman Rick Kreher and veteran Chicago bluesman Billy Flynn handle the guitar parts with several guest shots from Delmark recording artist Mike Wheeler.

 

It’s Morganfield’s vocals and physical resemblance that are most reminiscent of Muddy. It is truly uncanny at times but not anything that is forced. Mud comes by it honestly as part of a family tradition that we are privileged to celebrate. Morganfield is also a writer, penning ten of the album’s 12 tracks, the only exceptions being the two Muddy Waters songs. It is Mud’s way of honoring his famous father, by always including a Muddy song or two.

 

Morganfield takes his first step this time with the title track, “They Call Me Mud.” Sung over a B. B. King-like guitar groove, it’s autobiographical as he asserts, “The blues is my birthright” and recounts the life of a traveling bluesman: “been around the world/across the ocean/sailing the seven seas.” And in the tradition of Muddy classics such as “Mannish Boy” and “Hoochie Coochie Man,” Mud also boasts of supernatural romantic powers when he sings, “I’m like a mighty hurricane” and “when it comes to making love, I can bring it all night long”.

 

Mud follows up his personal intro with “48 Days,” an up-tempo lament for his departed love, accented by horn charts well played by Phil Perkins on trumpet and Michael Jackson on saxophone. Studebaker John Grimaldi is also here with the first of many piercing harmonica solos. It’s a reoccurring theme throughout the album, the bluesy horns and blues harp accompaniment, helping to anchor the record instrumentally.

 

“Cheatin’ Is Cheatin’” and “Who’s Foolin’ Who?” may not be the most elegant titles but they do pick up on a familiar blues theme as Mud drives the point home with lines like “you can’t make a housewife out of a ho”! Musically, the latter is a funkier, more percussive approach pressed by Melvin “Pookie Stix” Carlisle on drums, Bryant “T” Parker on percussion and pianist Sumito Ariyo Ariyoshi. Studebaker John rocks another noteworthy harp solo while rising Chicago guitar hero Mike Wheeler also drops in for the latter, augmenting the solid veteran guitars of Kreher and Flynn.

 

A Muddy Waters cover is next. It’s “Howling Wolf,” an ironic title since the real life Wolf was Muddy’s musical rival at times. “I’m a howling wolf and I’ve been howling all around your door.” It’s one of the album’s best moments as Mud inhabits his famous father’s sound with healthy doses of slide guitar, blues harp and keyboards. After that, Mike Wheeler returns for “24 Hours” with more inspired soloing from both Mike and Studebaker John. And Mud claims, “They call me the fireman/I put out every fire I see.”

 

The mood changes for “Who Loves You,” a slow groove seduction that is the album’s longest track at 5:52. There’s a woman’s touch here, as well, signified by the vocals of Mud’s daughter, Lashunda Williams, alternating with Mud and also Anne Harris on violin. This time there’s a sax solo by Michael Jackson. And lyric lines like “He don’t need you like I need you/cause if he did, you wouldn’t be here now.”

 

The more traditional Chicago blues sound returns next with “Oh Yeah” somewhat reminiscent of the Muddy Waters classic “Trouble No More.” Again, there’s stellar solos from harp blower Studebaker John and pianist Ariyoshi, with great guitar from the Flynn/Kreher crew. Another standout Muddy Waters cover follows, “Can’t Get No Grindin’,” which was the title track of a lesser known but still acclaimed Chess release. Mud resurrects it here, sparked by the band which also includes veteran E.G. McDaniel on bass and backing vocals on this track.  

 

The uptown sound is back for the next pair of songs, “Rough Around the Edge” and “Walkin’ Cane.” The former is autobiographical again while the latter dabbles in more traditional territory lyrically as Mud sings, “Hand me down my walkin’ cane.” The album comes to an end with an easy going War-like feel on “Mud’s Groove” and boasts an appearance from the great Billy Branch who was learning his blues when Mud’s father was still active.

 

With They Call Me Mud, Morganfield makes another noteworthy entry in his recorded catalog alongside Son of a Seventh Son and For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters. One senses that Muddy would be proud of his oldest son Mud if he could see and hear him now for carrying on the family blues tradition. And for attempting to forge his own sound in a very public setting. It’s never easy but well worth the effort.   

For info or to buy the CD: Severn Records

Greg Easterling holds down the 12 midnight – 5 a.m. shift on WDRV (97.1 FM) He also hosts American Backroads on WDCB (90.9 FM) Thursdays at 9 p.m.

 

     



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