NEWS, REVIEWS
3 February 2010
Reissues: Sunnyland Slim
& Johnny Shines: The
Complete Blues Horizon
Sessions
This Blue Horizon reissue combines two
original LP’s on one CD: Sunnyland Slim’s
“Midnight Jump” and Johnny Shines’ “Last
Night’s Dream”, both cut on June 10th,
1968 at Chess Records’ Ter-Mar Studios in
Chicago with the band that would go on to
tour Europe as The Chicago Blues All
Stars: Sunnyland, Shines, Willie Dixon,
Walter Horton and Clifton James.
Well, Sunnyland Slim is not present on the Shines half, but Otis Spann (who
would also record that day – see his own Complete set) fills in on one track,
“Pipeline Blues”.

Essentially, this is where I might as well end the review – the line-up above
should be enough to send an army of blues fans running to their nearest record
shop. And they would not be disappointed.

As producer
Mike Vernon writes in the liner notes, the sessions were recorded
directly to two-track stereo, so there was little chance of editing, and while this
reissue includes three alternate takes from Sunnyland, there are none from
Shines – simply because there weren’t any recorded. Vernon also regrets his
failure to sort out the band’s tuning problems in the studio, his repeated
attempts resulting only in “sideways glances” from the band, and indeed one can
imagine the plight of someone having to tell Willie Dixon he is out of tune!

However, the occasional “off” notes from Dixon and the overall first-take urgency
of the performances merely serve to add charm and bite to this super session.
Combined with Vernon’s producer’s sensibilities, we get an album which sounds
much warmer and more immediate than, say, Muddy Waters’ “Folk Singer”,
recorded at the same studio with the same rhythm section five years earlier.

The standout tracks on the Sunnyland Slim half are his heartfelt reading of Dixon’
s “I Am The Blues”, the instrumental “Sunnyland Special” with Dixon’s bass taking
centre stage, and the majestic yet previously unreleased piano-and-vocals-only
alternate of “Heartache”. Incidentally, Sunnyland Slim took his stage name in the
1930’s after “Low Down Sunnyland Train”, a song he wrote upon the death of
two whole families on the tracks of the train speeding from Memphis to St. Louis.
He was born
Albert Luandrew in 1907 in Mississippi, and the story of his
unhappy childhood is presented here in the form of the autobiographical
“Stepmother”.  

Born
John Ned Shines in 1915 in Memphis, Tennessee, Johnny Shines never had
it easy either, but his songs cover a wider selection of moods and subjects,
ranging from the topical and humorous “Black Panther” to one of his many takes
on the “Sweet Home Chicago” theme, this time titled “Baby Don’t You Think I
Know”. Walter Horton sits out on many of the Shines tracks, and the finest of
them have just Shines on guitar and vocals and Willie Dixon on bass – songs like
“Solid Gold”, “Last Night’s Dream”, and “I Had A Good Home”.

Originally inspired by a very young
Howlin’ Wolf, later travelling extensively with
Robert Johnson, Johnny Shines remains one of the most powerful vocalists,
distinctive slide guitarists and inventive songwriters of his or any era. In
“Sunnyland Slim & Johnny Shines: The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions” we have
an essential collection of Chicago blues at its best. For further listening, look no
further than “Evening Shuffle – The Complete J.O.B. Recordings 1952-53” by
Johnny Shines, out on Westside Records and similarly featuring Big Walter Horton
and Sunnyland Slim.


ANDRES ROOTS


Sunnyland Slim & Johnny Shines: The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions. Sony
BMG 2008

Sunnyland Slim (vocals, piano), Johnny Shines (vocals, guitar), Walter “Shakey”
Horton (harmonica), Willie Dixon (upright bass), Clifton James (drums), Otis Spann
(piano)

Reissue produced by Mike Vernon
.

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