Album review: 2120 South Michigan Ave./George Thorogood & The Destroyers

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Album review: rock

Keith Richards once said: ”The difference between us (The Rolling Stones) and the Beatles is that we see Chuck Berry as a blues artist and they see him as a rock’n’roll artist.” Even though George Thorogood’s new album, 2120 South Michigan Ave., is a tribute to the great blues label, Chess Records (probably the birthplace of urban blues), you can hear George’s great big rock and roll heart beating though it all.

Best known for 1982’s “Bad To The Bone” (like Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing”, a fresh breath of rootsy, analogue air in the synthy sparkle of early 80s radio), Thorogood, together with his band The Destroyers, has always erred on the side of wild abandon. Recalling the frenzied excitement of early rock’n’roll and “jump” music, Thorogood’s music can be summed up by his slide guitar style – filthy, noisy and off-the-dial. Perfect for rock’n’roll, a music (to quote Keith Richards again) “for the neck down”.

On his 15th album, the US rocker pays tribute to so many of the earth-shaking artists who recorded for Chess (the title 2120 South Michigan Ave. is Chess’s Chicago address): the master songwriter and bassist Willie Dixon, the great Bo Diddley, the twin colossi Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf (artists without whose music we would not have Led Zeppelin or The Stones) and the genius poet Chuck Berry (the artist without whose music we would probably not have rock music at all). Thorogood and his producer, Grammy winner Tom Hambridge have picked some of the finest Chess sides to cover – Dixon’s chilling “Seventh Son” and sexually blatant “Help Me”, Muddy’s “Two Trains Running” (with it’s surreal yet lived-in lyric) and the J B Lenoir pearl “Talk To Your Daughter”. The humour, wisdom and deep feeling that abounds in these songs is unmatched in blues (and much pop and rock songwriting) to this day – a rich mine to dig, George!

Original Chess artist and still-vital grandmaster, Buddy Guy helps out on “Hi-Heel Sneakers” – his needling, wheedling Strat tone leavening The Destroyers gym-built thud. Never a great band for subtle colours (well, they are called the Destroyers, not the Ironic Ponderers), the band’s muscle can at times overload the natural swing of these blues grooves. To my ears, the best blues here are the three songs where a guest steps in, toning down proceedings – apart from the Buddy Guy tune, “My Babe” and the Rolling Stones instrumental “2120 South Michigan Ave” feature the startlingly atmospheric blues-harp of virtuoso Charlie Musselwhite.

Which doesn’t mean The Destroyers’ patented trajectory is wasted here. On Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” (pretty much a rockin’ rewrite of “John B Goode”) the band hurtles down that train track with the brakes off and the whistle howling, giving Thorogood cause to take it all out on his guitar. Exciting stuff and as “live” sounding as you will hear this year.

2120 South Michigan Ave. is a fun ride. It is also a tasty sampler of the excitement and energy that early rock’n’roll artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis leached out of the wild blues of Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter, who came before at Chess. Too much blues today has been kidnapped by purists who bleed it white before stuffing it and displaying it under glass. Young bands such as the White Stripes and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have helped juice it up again. Check out this album for a rockin’ time and a nice hot shot of that juice.

Published August 2011 on liveguide.com.au

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