Spann, Otis – Is the Blues [IMPORT] – New LP
Of course, this is the blues, and that's all one really need to know. Is it also jazz and rock n roll? I'd say so. It's just vocals piano and guitar, but never had two instruments filled the songs like what's going on right here. Amazing. -- winch
Thom Jurek: Otis Spann held the piano chair in the Muddy Waters band for more than 15 years, playing on most of his Chess recordings between 1953 and 1969. Several of Muddy's bandmates also recorded for Chess. Spann -- an excellent vocalist as well as pianist -- attempted to do the same. The label allowed him to record and release the 1954 single "It Must Have Been the Devil," that featured B.B. King on guitar. Later sessions in 1956 and 1963 yielded tapes that went unreleased until after Spann's death. After spending years looking for a deal, he signed a one-off with Candid and cut his debut solo offering, Otis Spann Is the Blues. Cut in a single day in August 1960, the album features only two musicians, Spann on piano and Robert Lockwood, Jr. on electric guitar. Each man sings lead on his own compositions. It opens with Spann's "The Hard Way," a personal manifesto set to a slow, moaning blues: "You know I came up the hard way/I just about raised myself/I've been in and out of trouble, but I never begged no one for help…." Lockwood's vamps and fills underscore the quiet power in the pianist's singing. His dazzling skill on the 88s is revealed in Lockwood's "Take a Little Walk with Me," a midtempo 12-bar shuffle that offers Spann room to comp, fill, accent, solo, and otherwise elevate the arrangement. "Otis in the Dark" and "Great Northern Stomp" are solo instrumentals where he gets to show off his showstopping stride and boogie woogie skills. "Beat Up Team" is a deep, sorrowful, shouting Chicago blues that sidles up to the Delta and New Orleans as it unfolds. Lockwood's "My Daily Wish" is satisfying as the two players trade instrumental lines in a canny call-and-response. The guitarist's reading of Robert Johnson's (his birth father) "I've Got Ramblin' on My Mind," is rendered with abandon by both players. While Lockwood's guitar is a bit louder in the mix, Spann spices up his comping with fleet upper-register runs, expanded left-hand rhythmic inventions, and soulful phrasing. The pianist's closer, "Worried Life Blues," is the finest duo performance here. Lockwood adds biting accents and brief solos to Spann's pulsing mid-register flow. The pianist's moaning baritone digs deep into the lyrics, bringing them forth as unshakable truth as his hands and fingers create an unshakeable foundation for their arrival. Otis Spann Is the Blues didn't do much in the U.S., but British blues fans loved the record after seeing and hearing Spann play with Waters on tour. Among them were guitarists Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green (shortly thereafter joining Fleetwood Mac). Spann's album made such an impression on the pair, it planted the seed for a full-fledged collaboration between the pianist and their future band a few years down the road. In the 21st century, the album endures as the work of a Chicago blues master coming into his own.