First time on CD for this album of ragged, loose & funky blues from one of the genre's giants.
OK, so first the bad news – Muddy Waters does not sing on this album. Recorded with producer Alan Douglas in November 1967, at a time when Waters was still contracted to Chess Records, the vocal duties are shared between guitarist Luther 'Snake' Johnson and harmonica player Mojo Buford. There's a definite Muddy Waters stamp over the album however, with the man himself on guitar, adding those unmistakable embellishments, as well as having penned several of its tracks.
In other good news, this is the first time this album has had a CD release. The material contained originally came out as two separate vinyl releases, one featuring Johnson on vocals, the other featuring Buford. This coming together results in a bumper package for blues lovers. It's also one of those rare releases worth owning for the artwork, a Mati Klarwein painting depicts a trippy, beatific Waters emerging with his bouffant intact from some primordial gloop. Add to this the fact that the playing is superb and the band features the legendary Otis Spann on piano and things start to sound pretty promising.
Just check out the piano fills on the slow and mournful Remember Me, a track written by Waters and given a fine reading here. Elsewhere the Muddy Waters brand of electrified Chicago blues, though out of step with the time it was recorded in, appears in rude health and has aged well. Title track Mud In Your Ear is basically an instrumental reworking of Got My Mojo Working, and is quintessential Muddy Waters; proud, virile and driving. Other highlights include Johnson's almost stream of consciousness vocal on Long Distance Call, and Water's biting snarly solo on Coming Home Baby.
The album was recorded hot on the heels of the psychedelic Electric Mud, a record which Waters hated. No doubt with the resentment of Chess having forced him to make that album still fresh in his mind, on Mud In Your Ear the musicians sound like they're playing the music they love and believe in, and belief is an essential attribute in the blues. Thankfully passion and performance take precedence over perfection
For blues beginners seeking their first purchase of the mighty Muddy Waters, this album is not the one. A good entry point would be a compilation of his prime era Chess releases or the Johnny Winters produced comeback LP Hard Again. For blues fans in general however this is a fine album, with not a bad track on it. And despite Muddy not singing on the album, his personality and spirit permeates all the tracks, it sounds and feels like a Muddy Waters album. And you can't ask for more than that.