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Listening Report: Muddy Waters’ The Montreux Years on Vinyl, CD, Streaming.

Mark Smotroff knows the real thing when he hears it…


It’s all about authenticity, folks… 

When it comes to certain types of music like blues and jazz especially, there is often a palpable difference detectible between someone who has got that “real thing”magic vibe going on and others who are simply walking through the motions, play acting the role. Both types of artists can be popular, mind you. But only some will stand the test of time.  

I grew up in the early 60s where my first exposure to the blues came from rock era musicians who were embracing the form (if you will) and trying to take it some new places: Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Savoy Brown, Mountain, The James Gang, Johnny & Edgar Winter, etc. That’s not to say they were bad and some are quite good, But, as I’ve gotten deeper into the form I realize that there are certain aesthetics the only certain people can pull off effectively.

The new live recording from the Montreux Jazz Festival archives — culled from three performances in 1972, 1974 and 1977 — features the legendary Muddy Waters and is pretty amazing in that sense. 

Here in a matter of moments Muddy transforms this hallowed concert stage into a steamy intimate club in Chicago, a skill learned from a lifetime performances. There are great liner notes highlighting his career which began in the 1930s.  By 1972 Muddy was enjoying a career renaissance including his first Grammy award (for They Call Me Muddy Waters) and by 1977 he issued his first album produced by Johnny Winter which many consider among his finest, Hard Again.

Muddy was on a roll for sure… 

Sure, he doesn’t have some of the over-the-top overdriven electric fire power the rock kids were jamming out to at the time, but in retrospect I find this kind of performance much more authentic, heartfelt and believable.

Viewing it objectively, you really can’t compare someone like Muddy Waters to later electric rock artists who tackled the blues.  Hendrix played with a lot of classic blues templates adding his own doses of amplified overdriven lysergic prayer that made it work. Even someone like Stevie Ray Vaughan — who clearly mined that Hendrix template — brought his own Texas twist to the table which made it believable and authentic. And that is where many others fail along the way in trying to play the blues (and many other forms of music for that matter). Truth is essential and the performances on Muddy Waters: The Montreux Years certainly ring true. 

As with other albums in this series I’ve reviewed, the producers must be commended for their ability to craft a consistent album listening experience from 16 songs across different eras of the artist’s career. 

The black vinyl pressing of Muddy Waters: The Montreux Years is also consistent with others in the series I’ve explored by Nina Simone and Marianne Faithfull (click on their names to jump to the reviews). The thick 180-gram pressings are dark, well centered and dead quiet. These recordings were again mastered using MQA technology. 

You can also find Muddy Waters: The Montreux Years streaming in 96 kHz, 24-bit Hi Res form on Qobuz (click here) and Tidal MQA format (click here). 

It is hard to pinpoint any one track I like over others on Muddy Waters: The Montreux Years but across the four sides (and the single CD) you’ll hear many classics like “Mannish Boy,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” “Same Thing” and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man.”

Whether you’re a deep fan of Muddy or a casual listener just beginning to explore the man’s music, Muddy Waters: The Montreux Years is a fine listen.

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