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Chess 50th Anniversary Collection: Howlin' Wolf - His Best

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Album Review

With the exception of a vinyl compilation issued in the early '80s (His Greatest Sides, Vol. 1), there'd never really ever been a single-disc Howlin' Wolf best-of package available. That all changed with this entry in MCA/Chess' 50th Anniversary series, a 20-track retrospective that serves as the perfect introduction to the man and his music, some of the very best the blues has to offer. While some naysayers will always decry the exclusion — or inclusion — of any given number of tracks on any artist's best-of compilation, it's pretty hard to fault what's been collected here. Starting with the two-sided smash that brought him from Memphis to Chicago ("Moanin' at Midnight" b/w "How Many More Years"), this compilation hits all the high points and essential tracks, illustrating how his music developed into the mid-'60s. Eleven of the 20 tunes on here are either written or co-written by Willie Dixon, and Wolf's original takes on "Back Door Man," "Spoonful," "The Red Rooster," "Wang Dang Doodle," and "I Ain't Superstitious" are truly the definitive ones, a place where personality and material symbiotically become as one. Even if you have already have this material, die-hard Wolf fans — and audiophiles in particular — will want to investigate this package as the master transfers used here are absolutely stunning, with stereo mixes of "Killing Floor," "Built for Comfort," "Hidden Charms" (with the full-length Hubert Sumlin guitar solo), "Shake for Me," and the long version of "Going Down Slow" being particular standouts. This is a set so essential that it should be on everyone's Top Ten first purchases in building the perfect blues collection. While Wolf's music will take you to many places (both musically and spiritually), here's where you start to absorb it all. [His Best contains the same tracks as the 2007 Geffen release The Definitive Collection].

Biography

Born: 10 June 1910 in West Point, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

In the history of the blues, there has never been anyone quite like the Howlin' Wolf. Six foot three and close to 300 pounds in his salad days, the Wolf was the primal force of the music spun out to its ultimate conclusion. A Robert Johnson may have possessed more lyrical insight, a Muddy Waters more dignity, and a B.B. King certainly more technical expertise, but no one could match...
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