Review: The Essential Johnny Winter

TheEssentialJohnny Winter 2CDEssential series titles are gold currency for artists under the Sony umbrella, historically Columbia/Epic/RCA, etc.  After a strong career with plenty of music, and loads of fans, many artists have found their catalog hits to be featured inside the 2CD, sometimes 3CD The Essential xxxx series.

Johnny Winter is one of these.  And deservedly so.  Over the many decades of his Blues-infused Rock n Roll and his more traditional Blues housed on Columbia’s imprint, Blue Sky (as well as other Blues-friendly labels), Johnny Winter played some of the more blistering Rock and Roll heard in the early years of his career up through his Blue Sky years.

Few people can lay claim to the level of guitar playing that Johnny Winter has recorded.    On The Essential Johnny Winter, Legacy has collected a rough and tumble batch of songs loosely distributing them across two CDs of incendiary Rock (and yes, I need to use that seeming cliche of a word).  There is no chronological order.  But that’s quite alright where Johnny is involved because his whole career was nearly perfect musically.

This Essential set begins with “Rock Me Baby” from Winter’s 1973 classic, Still Alive And Well.  It’s followed up with the Winterized version of  “Highway 61 Revisited” from his perfect Second Winter (1969).  After that, it’s “One Step At A Time” from the 1978 Blue Sky album, White, Hot & Blue.  Get the idea?  Where Johnny is concerned, who needs chronology.  The rest of Disc One is completed with selections from Johnny Winter And (1970), Captured Live (1976), Winter’s wonderful Blue Sky classic, Nothin’ But The Blues (1977), Raisin’ Cain (1980), and John Dawson Winter III (1976).

JWinterDisc Two explores the same territory with much of the material on this CD originating from many of the same places as the songs on disc one.  Exceptions include forays into Saints & Sinners (1974),  and two live Woodstock tracks from the earlier Legacy issue, The Woodstock Experience.  There are also two borrowed tracks from Collector’s Choice’s Live At The Fillmore East 10/3/70, one on each disc.  As a bonus inclusion, disc two contains a great rendition of “Harlem Shuffle” (Stones WHO?) live with Edgar Winter, and originally found on a Blue Sky issue, Johnny and Edgar Winter Together Live   (1976).  While I love this song, I think I would have rather had “Baby, Whatcha Want Me To Do”, the great Jimmy Reed classic performed Winter style on Together.

The included 16-page booklet is excellent with photos, the obligatory – but exhaustive – credits, and an interesting read by Brad Tolinski.  In his notes, he recounts an incredible experience at a Johnny Winter concert at Detroit’s Cobo Hall where the crowd became so incensed with the music that was being played, the house turned on the lights to prevent a mesmerizing experience from becoming a disastrous one.

Call me biased.  When it comes to Johnny Winter, I am.  But, if you’re a Winter fan in any way, career or favored album, you cannot go wrong with this collection.

But if you ask me, a thorough Johnny Winter Box set is in order and overdue.  Whattaya think?

Release Date: April 30, 2013
Label: Legacy Recordings
Availability: 2CD

–Matt Rowe

Is Song Quality Affected By Album Length?

I know this has been discussed before, but I think it bears being discussed again.  The subject of an album containing more than nine or ten tracks (if even that many) has long been a train on my mind.  It runs around in circles, blowing its horn, and ALWAYS making me feel like ‘what if this album were filled less tracks, how much more might I have appreciated it?’

There are two sides to this thought.  The first is the easy one with blame shifted squarely on the artist.  I have no problem with them recording a multitude of songs, but if more concentration was paid to songs that played back better than others during basic tracks, how much more extraordinary might the album become?  We live in a time where the gatekeepers (the BIG labels) are no longer the only game in town.  Of course, that was starting to become a threat way back in the late ’70s as small, independent labels began to form and have great success with some excellent artists.  But that was still a smaller threat back then.  Now, that is simply not the case as many labels have formed outside the periphery of Sony, Warner, and Universal to tout their latest and greatest band.

yawning-man-with-headphone-3023b1As the cheaply made, and widely distributed music appears on a series of well-read internet sites, the exposure to these bands become unprecedented.  However, those bands are filling available bit space with lots of songs, some of which would be better off if they never saw the light of day.  What ends up happening is that we become inundated with music, so much so that we can only pay so much attention.  With new albums from all over being filled to the max with thirteen, sometimes more, average tracks, our ability to become a fan diminishes greatly.

Frankly, we begin to lose touch after seven songs.  By the time you reach number twelve, the last song has eradicated the effect of the first three.  And so we wander through life rarely becoming a fan of a complete album.  And if you did, it took some super-human effort on your part to engage and repeatedly listen to the whole thing.  And I don’t say it’s impossible, just difficult.

When the time constraints of the vinyl LP limited song inclusions back when LPs were the primary game in town, we were able to listen to the usual low count of tracks.  And we often found that not every song, even then, were to our liking.  But it didn’t stop us from becoming a fan of an entire album.  That doesn’t seem to be too much the case these days, becoming a fan of an entire album.

The second side to this argument puts more blame upon us as listeners.  With the proliferation of so much music, we do not have the inclination to carve out specific time frames to listen completely all the way through.  Often, if we’re not too sure in the opening seconds of a song, we often move forward to “listen” to the next.  Call it laziness on our part, and it is to a degree, but I have to fault the quality of a song here.

Songs are an extension of an artist.  Often, some of those songs aren’t worth the time of their creation.  Back during the smaller constraints of the medium used to play-back the songs, artists had to pick the best of their batch.  Once chosen, they worked to make them better.  When that collection of “great songs” were finished, they became an album, often heralded as classic, and listenable to this day some decades later.

If the artists of today followed the same formula as if they could only place nine or ten tracks onto an album (and let’s face it, with digital files become more and more prevalent, the constraints of even a CD is long gone), how much better might an album be, any album released by an artist of note?  I dare say it would be better.

Even more so, it’s likely that we might be able to pay closer attention to each song as we have greater time opportunity to replay the complete album.

I suggest to artists of this time that they pay greater attention to the quality of their songs by limiting the collection written for an album.  I’m betting that they will gain in greater stature, selling more albums, and enjoying more longevity, not only in rotation, but in classic status.

I just want to see albums created these days to be able to enjoy a 30th or 40th Anniversary Edition when that times rolls around.

I just don’t have that much faith any more.