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Album Review

Unlike rock stars, whose unseemly struttings at sixty-plus years old should be must-see TV for all abstinence-only classes, blues singers just improve with age. Exhibit one: Long John Baldry 30 years after he first took to the stage, thrilling an appreciative Midwestern crowd at Iowa State University. The decades have barely worn his voice, roughening it at the edges a bit, but it remains as big, booming, and emotive as ever. Backed by a phenomenal band, and a phenomenally versatile one at that, and accompanied by the fabulous Kathi McDonald, who seems to simultaneously channel both Etta James and Janis Joplin, this was an unforgettable night, one of many in Baldry's career. Live Iowa State University 1987 begins in relaxed, porch-pickin' blues style with "Going Down Slow," with the heat gently rising until the song begins to simmer and steam, a gumbo of a number, where all the bandmembers are given the opportunity to showcase their silky skills. "Every Day I Have the Blues" is done in brash boogie style, and Baldry enjoys every second of the song. From R&B to reggae is no leap at all, and "It Ain't Easy" bends easily to the latter style, a gentle reminder that reggae itself grew out of R&B, but with this version owing as much to Sly & the Family Stone as to the Skatalites. McDonald joins Baldry on that number, and then takes over the mike for a storming cover of "Respect" and an incredibly powerful take on "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman." Stunning performances both. Baldry returns to accompany her on a calypso-fied cover of "Iko Iko" that's so much fun, you can actually hear his eyes twinkling with delight. The jazzy arpeggios that follow give no warning as to the set's finale, a barrelling "Don't Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock'n'Roll," which morphs in and out of a '60s Stax style. It's the perfect curtain closer for a superb show where everyone on the stage that night shines brighter than the north star.


Born: 12 January 1941 in England

Genre: Blues

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

Like Cliff Richard, Chris Farlowe, Slade, Blur, and eel pie, Long John Baldry is one of those peculiarly British phenomena that doggedly resists American translation. As a historical figure, he has undeniable importance. When he began singing as a teenager in the 1950s, he was one of the first British vocalists to perform folk and blues music. In the early '60s, he sang in the band of British blues godfather Alexis Korner, Blues Incorporated, which also served as a starting point for future rock...
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Live - Iowa State University 1987, Long John Baldry
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