Muddy Waters

I'm Ready [Expanded]

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Review

I'm Ready, the second of Muddy Waters' recordings for Columbia's Blue Sky imprint, like its predecessor was produced by Johnny Winter, who also guests on guitar here. While Hard Again showcased a reinvigorated Waters at the peak of his blues power as a singer and bandleader in the company of former employee James Cotton, I'm Ready also reunited Waters with former friends and collaborators. Along with Johnny Winter, guitarist Jimmy Rogers from Waters '40s and '50s bands was recruited for the session, as was Chicago blues harp legend Big Walter Horton. Filling out the date were Waters' road guitarist Bob Margolin (playing bass), drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, pianist Pinetop Perkins, and Jerry Portnoy also playing harp on a few tunes. The three-guitar front line on these sides is what immediately marks it. The interplay between Rogers and Waters made it sound like 20 years had never passed. Rogers ability to come down always on the right note and create memorable riffs to accompany Waters' razored percussive attack is astonishing here, as is Winter's ability to play around the outside, on the fringes, and rein it all in with his burning fills. Horton's playing here is utterly inspired and the listener can feel this band stretching to meet Waters' energy. As they do, his own willingness to break the mold grows exponentially. The material comes from the heart of Waters' catalog, as well as the Chicago blues canon in the form of tunes by Willie Dixon and Sonny Boy Williamson. The title track, which opens the set, is a case in point. Rogers trademark riff at the beginning is played lower and meaner and Waters comes roaring out of the box like an uncaged tiger. In addition, both Horton and Portnoy play harp on the tune and set the entire record reeling into the stratosphere from the jump. It's an auspicious beginning, and a high watermark, but it just gets better. Margolin's bass playing is reminiscent of the old-style Chicago blues and works its magic in the pocket. As the anchor of the rhythm section, he probably surprised himself with his performance on these tunes. There isn't a weak moment on I'm Ready, but there are some clear standouts apart from the title track -- Waters' "33 Years," the houserocking blue-black blues of Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Koochie Man," and the in-the-grease "Screamin' and Cryin," which offers a stellar vocal performance by Waters. (Bob Dylan's emulation of this singing style in his blues-oriented material is unmistakable.) In addition to this scorching set, in full remastered -- but not remixed, thankfully -- glory, are an addition 15-and-a-half-minutes of music in the form of three bonus tracks -- a stinging version of "No Escape From the Blues"; a slow, snakey "That's Allright"; and an earthshaking "Lonely Man Blues," to breathlessly close it all. Add to this Margolin's wonderfully candid liner notes that offer not just factual but anecdotal information and an intimate portrait of the session and you have a reissue that's superior to the album it represents. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

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