Chicago Blues: A Living History

This two-CD, 21-song collection features two generations of Chicago musicians paying homage to a raft of earlier bluesmen. It’s a terrific idea that plays out beautifully. It stars Billy Boy Arnold and Billy Branch (harps, vocals); John Primer and Lurrie Bell (guitars, vocals) with superb backing by The Living History Band—guitarist Billy Flynn, pianist Johnny Iguana, bassist Felton Crews and drummer Kenny Smith. Among those honored is John Lee Williamson (the first Sonny Boy) whose 1940 “My Little Machine” gets a magnificent treatment by Arnold, who’s sensational on each of his numbers including a visit to his 1955 hit, “I Wish You Would.” Primer’s smooth vocals and incisive guitar light up Muddy Waters’ 1948 classic, “I Feel Like Going Home” and Howlin’ Wolf’s 1951 “Moanin’ at Midnight,” while Branch gives both Little Walter’s 1955 “Hate to See You Go” and Junior Wells’ 1965 “Hoodoo Man Blues” a solid workout. Bell, son of harmonicist Carey Bell, grew up in a blues-drenched household and his haunting rendition of Willie Dixon’s 1958 “My Love Will Never Die” is another of the disc’s highlights. So, too, is Iguana’s boogie woogie piano on Maceo Merriweather’s 1945 “Chicago Breakdown.” Flynn’s slide guitar steams up both Elmore James’ 1952 “I Believe” and Earl Hooker’s “Hooking It.”