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Giant

James Cotton

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Album Review

The years have ravaged James Cotton's once booming voice but his powerful harp playing hasn't lost a step, as one spin of Giant will confirm. His return to the Alligator label that released two Cotton albums in the mid-'80s and another with him as one fourth of 1990's classic Harp Attack! harmonica quartet is a chugging contemporary blues set that allows "Mr. Superharp" plenty of room to blow. Since guitarist Slam Allen handles the vocals, Cotton can play during the singing, something that eludes all other harmonica playing/lead vocalist frontmen. Allen is a competent if not terribly distinctive singer, but he delivers the tunes with adequate enthusiasm. The set is a mix of covers, including three relatively obscure ones from Cotton's ex-employer Muddy Waters and originals that don't expand the blues genre but sit comfortably within its parameters. Surely the world doesn't need more versions of worn-out chestnuts such as "How Blue Can You Get?," "That's All Right" and "Since I Met You, Baby," yet as vehicles for Cotton's meaty solos they are tolerable. But it's on the few instrumentals such as "With the Quickness" and the closing slow tempo moan of "Blues for Koko" that the harpist best struts his still nimble mouth work without the distraction of lyrics. The music is predominantly Chicago-style blues with a smidgen of contemporary gloss, but the Cotton/Allen co-write of "Change" adds a slick, bouncy funk beat in keeping with Cotton's High Compression disc. He switches between a tautly amplified sound and leaner acoustic attack, laying down a varied approach to his playing that shows him to be frisky yet powerful, regardless of whether or not he plugs in. A soulful take of the Syl Johnson hit "Let Yourself Go" brings tough Memphis R&B to the proceedings, further varying the approach. While this isn't in the league with Cotton's best work, it's a consistently enjoyable listen and shows that he continues to punch out the bold harmonica fire that inspired Muddy Waters to stick with him for over a decade, even in the home stretch of his storied career.

Biography

Born: July 01, 1935 in Tunica, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

At his high-energy, 1970s peak as a bandleader, James Cotton was a bouncing, sweaty, whirling dervish of a bluesman, roaring his vocals and all but sucking the reeds right out of his defenseless little harmonicas with his prodigious lung power. Due to throat problems, Cotton's vocals are no longer what they used to be, but he remains a masterful instrumentalist. Cotton had some gargantuan shoes to fill when he stepped into Little Walter's slot as Muddy Waters' harp ace in 1954, but for the next dozen...
Full bio