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Acrobat (ACTRCD9039)

Moanin’ At Midnight, How Many More Years, Ridin’ In The Moonlight, My Last Affair, No Place To Go, Evil, Poor Boy, Spoonful, The Natchez Burning, The Red Rooster, Back Door Man, Do The Do, Goin’ Down Slow and many more…

The most excited and agitated I have known Red Lick customers to have been over recent years was when Hip-O Select released a lavishly produced and presented 4 CD collection of Howlin' Wolf's Chess Masters, packed to the gills with his fabulous sides, rarities and never-before released alternate takes.

Like most sets from Hip-O, this was a strictly limited edition and customers were anxious to get their mitts on a copy before the inevitable happened and they sold out. Many not quick enough ‘out of the blocks’ seemed genuinely crushed that this set was deleted so quickly and before they had secured their own copy. I can’t be sure, but many may never have fully recovered.

Well, I know it is not full and proper compensation but what we have here may well be the next best thing,  an 80 track collection of Wolf's singles (A & B sides) in the sequence that they were released that broadly covers the same ground as the Hip-O set. While it does not reach the sumptuous production and packaging standards that the earlier set did (or indeed have anywhere near as many rare and alternate sides), it does have the benefit of a rather attractive budget price and so many sublime tracks that make it too good to resist.

Obviously, there are plenty of other compilations of Wolf's recordings available but I don't believe that any of these offer the breadth, scope and context that this set does. It has been an absolute joy over the past few days to re-acquaint myself with these sides and have a sense of taking a journey from his rough and ready early recordings in Memphis at the beginnings of the 1950s through to the more professionally recorded sides at Chess in Chicago over the following decade.

It goes without saying of course that Howlin' Wolf deserves a seat at the very top table of blues recording artists. Everyone with any interest in blues has to have Howlin' Wolf in their library and this, in the absence of the Hip-O Select set, may well be the best, most comprehensive and affordable collection of his best years.

Review Date: April 2014

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