Various The Songs of Willie Dixon

One quick spin into The Songs of Willie Dixon yields a loving tour down memory lane that reminds us of his phenomenal songwriting catalogue of classic Chicago blues. Whether you were introduced to Dixon's songs via the cream of Chicago blues giants (Howlin' Wolf, Koko Taylor, Eddie Boyd, Little Walter, Muddy Waters) who made each song their own. Or whether you learned his name through the "Who's Who" of rockdom that crossed the bridge Dixon built between blues and rock (Cream. Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, the Doors), the fact remains that the Mississippi-born Dixon was the blues biggest ambassador and a one-man blues industry who did it all for the right reasons. The Songs of Willie Dixon — like all tributes — is a mixed bag of hits and misses. The best tracks are instrumentals, surprisingly, which may say something for the reverence of the originals. The house band (comprised of Jerry Portnoy on harmonica, David Maxwell on piano, Doug Wainoris on guitars, and Muddy-veterans Eddie Shaw on sax, Calvin Jones on bass and Willie Smith on drums) single-handedly lift the musicianship above the norm, successfully evoking Willie's "spirit" throughout. Their scorching "Shakin' The Shack" and an uplifting rendition of "Spoonful" are two excellent examples. The cast of “all-stars” falls surprisingly short of their duties, however, with few exceptions. Eddie Shaw adds some gruff grace to "I Ain't Superstitious" and Kenny Neal burns through "Bring It On Home" with swamped-up funk passion. Christine Ohlman and John Ellison inject pure party fever into "Wang Dang Doodle," clearly having some fun in the process, while Ronnie Earl adds fire to "My Love Will Never Die." But, for the most part, there are many let downs, despite the material. Deborah Coleman's reading of "Good Understanding" seems lifeless. Drummer Willie Smith and guitarist Doug Wainoris take lead vocals each on two songs that suffer from their lack of ability. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's version of "I Just Want To Make Love To You" is doomed from the beginning, overshadowed by Muddy's classic template. There's much to like here and the exercise of looking back at Dixon's rich legacy of music makes this visit more than worthwhile. Yet songs of this calibre — providing the ultimate soundtrack to the blues heaven that he so enthusiastically strove to preserve — deserve much more. (Telarc)