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Anthology: The Elektra Years. (Carousel Corner).

Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Anthology: The Elektra Years (Elektra)

The very first concert my brother and I attended at the original Fillmore Auditorium featured a long-forgotten local band, Raahsan Roland Kirk, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Kirk's multiple reeds and caterwauling, free-fall jazz held us spellbound. But we were there for Butterfield and his tandem guitar line-up of Elvin Bishop and Michael Bloomfield. What we didn't know was that Bloomfield had left the band a couple of weeks before to co-found the Electric Flag. Of course we were disappointed that we wouldn't witness "East/ West", Bloomfield's groundbreaking proto-mid-Eastern tour de force, performed live. But the Fillmore had no proper stage -- the bands were cordoned off in one corner -- and we sat enraptured at the edge of the cords as the Butterfield band tore through two sets of savage electric blues. We didn't know at the time, but Bloomfield's departure had turned Bishop loose, no longer having to find his space under the former's considerable skill and shadow. In a sense, we witnessed the rolling of the stone that presaged the resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw -- Bishop's nom de band.

The two-disc Anthology chronicles the band's origins in Chicago in 1964 to its final horn-drenched 1971 incarnation. The first disc leans heavily on the band's Chicago years with the majority of the material coming from Elektra samplers and their first three albums. The second disc races through the last four albums, arguably a less fearsome output than the Bloomfield/Bishop band (Bishop left after In My Own Dream.) The Anthology is chock full of vintage Butterfield, "The Work Song", "Mystery Train", "Born in Chicago", "East/West" and the sublime "In My Own Dream" with a young David Sanborn's transcendent soprano sax solo. If I have any quibble with this kind of compilation, it is what it omits -- most of East/West and Crabshaw, for my money the original band's best work. I'm especially disappointed that Mugsy Baugh's "Drivin' Wheel" didn't pass final muster.

The accompanying booklet is a succinct and sympathetic band history that focuses, and rightly so, on Butterfield, the nexus around which his various bands revolved. The liner note writer, Tom Ellis III, describes how the integrated band, a Southside Chicago first, broke the area's electric blues nationally with their overlooked performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965-overshadowed by Dylan's electric coming out with The Band. He also notes that having honed their chops in the Southside's brutally tough music scene, the sheer command of their material raised them head and hocks above the bands of the burgeoning San Francisco scene after they emigrated there in 1967. For those of you who haven't heard the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Anthology is an excellent embarkation point. A great many of the band's albums are still around on disc, notably East/West and Crabshaw. One can hope, however, that Elektra will see fit some day to issue the band's work in a definitive box set.
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Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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