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Various Artists

Remembering Little Walter



Little Walter Jacobs checked out early — dead at age 38, in 1968, from a head injury sustained during a drunken back-alley craps-shooting dispute — but he left behind an indelible imprint on the way the harmonica has been played by blues musicians ever since. His tone on the amplified instrument was as wide as the Mississippi River, and the flow of his improvised lines was at once graceful and fierce.

Billy Boy Arnold and Charlie Musselwhite, both of whom had known and played with Jacobs, teamed up late last year with slightly younger harmonica masters Mark Hummel, James Harman, and Sugar Ray Norica to pay tribute to their hero on one of Hummel's annual Blues Harmonica Blowout tours. The five musicians take turns singing and playing two tunes apiece from the Jacobs songbook, all backed by one of the most empathetic editions of Hummel's Blues Survivors' bands to date. Castro Valley resident Hummel is especially soulful on the set's one instrumental, a show blues titled "Blue Light." And it's great to hear Musselwhite, who has gained crossover notoriety of late from his collaborations with Cyndi Lauper and Ben Harper, returning to the type of raw Chicago blues that first made him famous in the blues world nearly a half century ago.

Little Charlie Baty plays incisive guitar throughout, but during the finale, he picks up a mouth harp to join the five headliners for a spirited jam on "My Babe."