With a handful of studio albums under his belt, Big Bill Morganfield - the son of Chicago blues legend McKinley Morganfield a/k/a Muddy Waters - is well on his way towards establishing his own distinctive voice and legacy in the blues. Morganfield's fourth album, Born Lover, does a great job of further distancing the singer, songwriter, and skilled guitarist from under the long shadow of his father with a dozen hot performances.
Big Bill Morganfield's Born Lover
Since his emergence a decade ago, Morganfield has always been a steady, solid performer. Drawing upon the classic Chicago blues sound pioneered by his legendary father, Morganfield has seldom strayed far from the well. With "High Gas Prices," though, he has penned a classic song of his own, a working class blues anthem that will remain relevant until humanity ditches the internal combustion engine.
The song cranks serious amperage from the first notes with a dirty, deep groove that is driven by some nasty guitar tones and a steady drumbeat. Relying on a recurring, hypnotic riff worthy of R.L. Burnside or Junior Kimbrough, Morganfield delivers a talking blues lament about the state of today's economy. Much like Walter Trout's "They Call Us The Working Class," "High Gas Prices" taps into a rich vein of rage and frustration that is at the heart of the blues.
Soul-Blues, Made For Romance
Before the audience can get too rowdy, however, Big Bill brings it down, sharing the love with the listener with a pair of romantic numbers. Buddy Guy's "My Love Is Real" is one of the real overlooked entries in the guitarist's catalog, and in Morganfield's capable hands it's delivered as a smooth-as-silk soul-blues croon.
The title track, one of the senior Morganfield's musical gems and a bit of overstated braggadocio, is a rough-and-ready rocker with a staggered, swaying beat that features Bill's gruff vocals, Steve Guyger's blazing harpwork, and keyboardist Clark Stern's fleet-fingers tickling the ivories. With his band vamping it up behind him Morganfield acquits himself admirably on Howlin' Wolf's "My Last Affair." A smoldering, bluesy torch song with flaming guitar licks and passionate vocals, Stern's energetic piano fills may just push this version above the original.
Peace Of Mind
Snooky Pryor's rollicking "Peace Of Mind" is the kind of Chicago blues romp that you can really sink your teeth into, with deep vocals, swooning harpwork, and a slinky rhythm. The Morganfield original "Who's The Fool?" is a full-band blow-out with a great traditional "you done me wrong" story of love and betrayal supported by a tidal wave of strutting harp, reckless piano-pounding, and blistering guitar.
The original "X-Rated Lover" takes up where the title track left off, moving the storyline into the bedroom with a different perspective and a bawdier set of lyrics. The song benefits from some sizzling fretwork and Guyger's rowdy blasts of harmonica. Born Lover closes with an energetic reading of Willie Dixon's "One Kiss," Morganfield belting out the lyrics while the harp blows freely and the intertwined guitars sing clear.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
To his credit, Big Bill Morganfield has seldom used his father's name and reputation to further his own career, preferring instead to forge his own sound and identity. Yeah, it's still deep Chicago blues music, but Morganfield infuses his performances with an undeniable passion and energy, throwing in a little soul and jazz elements to keep things fresh and honest.
With his dad's former guitarist, "Steady Rolllin'" Bob Margolin once again handling the production chores (and lending a hand with his instrument), Morganfield's Born Lover is another solid effort from an artist that is slowly shaping the classic Chicago blues sound in his own image. (Black Shuck Records/VizzTone, released July 7, 2009)