Hard Again (Blue Sky ’77) Rating: A-
This is the album where longtime Muddy Waters joined albino guitar god Johnny Winter (a longtime admirer) on Winter’s own Blue Sky label. With Winter adding his own stinging guitar (and what Winter lightheartedly calls “miscellaneous screaming”) to the wondrous harp talents of James Cotton, the sessions became so energized that the elder Waters remarked that it made him, uh, “excited” again. Everything that made Waters a legend to the likes of young whippersnappers like the Rolling Stones (who got their name from the Waters song “Mannish Boy,” included here in a powerful new version) in the ‘60s is amply in evidence, from his deep, commanding voice to his agile guitar playing. Six of these nine songs are new compositions, and though their repetitive nature can grow wearying, hey, that’s just the nature of the blues. Besides, these long-ish songs ("Bus Driver" clocks in at 7:44, "Little Girl" at 7:06) allow for many impressive instrumental sections where each player (also including "Pine Top" Perkins on piano, guitarist Bob Margolin, bass player Charles Calmese, and the big whomping drum beat of Wille "Big Eyes" Smith) adds his 2 cents during some memorable tradeoffs. "I Want To Be Loved" and "I Can't Be Satisfied" are the album's catchiest songs, while the wonderfully titled "The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll (#2)" is another hard rocking high point. Really, the band ensures that the weak spots are few and far between, and Winter’s bare production rightly accentuates raw emotion above all else, yielding a live in the studio ambiance that truly scorches. The aging Waters himself was thrilled with the results, considering the album a career highlight, and Hard Again is a must have for fans of hard, heated blues performances.
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