Jimmy Reed ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

Singer-songwriter Jimmy Reed is one of the undisputed greats of blues singing, yet he is still relatively underrated. This despite the fact that the Rolling Stones have never ceased to sing his praises, at regular intervals covering his songbook, and that includes their very latest album which is a series of blues covers reinvigorated with the Stones’ own trademark licks.Avid have again done a sterling job of condensing four of Jimmy Reed’s late 1950s and early 1960s albums onto two CDs. This comes with one caveat. While all the albums are worthwhile and help showcase Reed’s majestic delivery, this does not as such amount to a greatest hits package since it is missing some of the singer’s biggest hits of the calibre of, ‘Honest I do’, ‘Ain’t that lovin’ you baby’, ‘Bright lights’ big city’ and ‘You don’t have to go’. Thus, you would need to supplement the present package with an authoritative anthology to have the near complete picture. That said, the music within captures Jimmy Reed in excellent form and some of the songs are definitive examples of electric Chicago blues with a strong dose of R & B.

Unlike other singers of the same ilk such as any of Albert, B.B. or Freddie King, Jimmy Reed did not engage in long instrumental solos and simply left his understated voice to do all the talking for him. This writer immediately warmed to the funky undercurrent and raunchy drum beat of, ‘Big boss man’, which is a highlight while a classic bass line groove and intimate guitar greet the listener on, ‘Baby you want me to’, which does nonetheless feature a harmonica solo that Reed repeats elsewhere. Another winner is, ‘Hush hush’, which has the catchiest of riffs and a terrific soulful delivery from the leader. Some of these songs originally came out on a double vinyl and was mistakenly titled, ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’. In reality, they were not live at all. Like many blues musicians, Reed was born in Mississippi and moved up to Chicago in 1943, after completing his military service, before relocating to Gary, Indiana (where the Jackson Five family would be raised). He worked at a meat packing plant while gradually integrating himself into the rapidly emerging Chicago blues scene.

It was a tragedy that Jimmy Reed should be plagued by epilepsy throughout his career and depart this life aged just fifty-one in 1976. Consequently, the world of music was deprived of one of its truly great disciples. Hopefully, this two CD set will help fill in at least some of the gaps.

Tim Stenhouse