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What It Takes: The Chess Years (Deluxe Version)

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Album Review

Reissued and expanded to 24 tracks in 2009 with the addition of six sides unearthed since the CD's initial appearance (and subsequent disappearance), this single disc neatly collects everything of importance that Chicago blues belter Koko Taylor released through Chess and its subsidiary Checker label. The initial 18 selections are in chronological order, but the six extras — also covering 1964-1971, like the others — are tacked on at the end, jumbling the set list unnecessarily. Regardless, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, historically important collection as much for Taylor's sizzling performances as for Willie Dixon's sublime compositions and sympathetic production. Those who know these formative years from Taylor's immortal "Wang Dang Doodle" will thrill to realize that the classic isn't even the best entry here. It's a tossup as to which others challenge it, but "What Came First the Egg or the Hen," with Dixon joining in on vocals, is in the running, as is the absolutely chilling "Insane Asylum," where Dixon interestingly kicks off the song before Taylor appears over a minute later. The producer/bassist/songwriter/singer pens all but one of the initial 18 songs, but he wrote only three of the half-dozen newly added ones. Of those, Taylor takes sole songwriting credit on 1964's "What Kind of Man Is That?" and covers J.B. Lenoir's "Good Advice." The latter is an unusually pop-oriented moment that she still roughs up with her usual dynamic vocal attack. Taylor tackles politically charged territory in Dixon's "Separate or Integrate," one of the few times, along with "Bills, Bills & More Bills," that the material leans in that direction. The disc closes appropriately with a recording from her final Chess session in 1971, a somewhat reserved and rambling but driving "Tease Your Man," another rare Dixon gem. While her later Alligator years might have exposed her talents to the world and helped crown her Queen of the Blues, this is where it all started. It shows how Taylor developed over this fertile seven-year stretch, with assistance from Willie Dixon, to her well-earned legendary status.

Customer Reviews

Koko is the queen of blues

Koko brings it up from her gut to sing some of the best chi-town blues.


Born: September 28, 1928 in Memphis, TN

Genre: Blues

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

Accurately dubbed "the Queen of Chicago blues" (and sometimes just the blues in general), Koko Taylor helped keep the tradition of big-voiced, brassy female blues belters alive, recasting the spirits of early legends like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Big Mama Thornton, and Memphis Minnie for the modern age. Taylor's rough, raw vocals were perfect for the swaggering new electrified era of the blues, and her massive hit "Wang Dang Doodle" served notice that male dominance in the blues wasn't as exclusive...
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What It Takes: The Chess Years (Deluxe Version), Koko Taylor
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