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Album Review

Al Miller had been contributing to the Chicago blues scene for over 30 years when, in 1994, he finally recorded his first album as a leader, Wild Cards. The singer/guitarist/harpist was far from a huge name in the blues world, but then, a lack of commercial success wasn't something that discouraged Delmark founder Bob Koester; if Koester felt that a blues or jazz artist deserved to be documented, he would put out an album regardless of how obscure he/she was. For this enjoyable, if unremarkable, session, Delmark hired Dave Specter (an excellent guitarist who shouldn't be confused with software public relations man David Spector) to do the producing, and employed his guitar on eight of its 14 selections. The personnel varies from song to song, and the CD's vocals are handled not only by Miller, but also by Willie Kent, Tad Robinson (whose gruff style recalls Dave Prater of Sam & Dave) and Steve Freund. Miller, in fact, lays out on six tracks; in other words, he lays out on almost half of his own album. Electric Chicago blues is Wild Cards' primary focus, although the CD successfully detours into '60s-type soul on "Stuck in Chicago" and acknowledges jazz with a gutsy version of Gene Ammons' "Red Top." Specter isn't heard on the latter, which is surprising because the bluesman is heavily influenced by jazz and would have been perfect for the tune. Wild Cards isn't fantastic, but it's a competent offering from an artist who deserved to be documented as a leader.

Biography

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s

Mandolinist Al Miller played and sang in a style that combined elements of country, blues and jazz in a blend that was more common back in the day than many record collectors, critics and pigeon-holing historians seem ever to have found acceptable, although he certainly did his part to pave the way for a genre-blending development known as western swing. During the years 1927-1936 Miller cut more than two dozen titles under his own name, and sat in with pianist Cripple Clarence Lofton and singers...
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Wildcards, Al Miller
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