Big Walter Horton With Carey Bell

Big Walter Horton

Alligator, 1972

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Harmonica-based blues music is undoubtedly part of the heart and soul of the Chicago Blues scene. So, when Alligator Records was ready to issue their second album of their library, it made sense to dip into that portion of the genre—and it made equal sense for them to feature Big Walter Horton and his young protege Carey Bell.

Only the second solo album of his career, Big Walter Horton With Carey Bell seemed to represent a passing of the torch in terms of harmonica blues. Yet one never forgets the star of the show was Horton, whose delivery on the harmonica is equally as impressive as his vocals. And Bell’s contributions on both harmonica and bass guitar just add layers that take some of these tracks and raise them to new levels. Yet it is not a perfect album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

When the two musicians and their backing band—some from Bell’s own group, guitarist Eddie Taylor a longtime musical partner of Horton’s—click, there’s no stopping them. Tracks like “Have A Good Time,” “Little Boy Blue” and instrumentals like “Temptation Blues” all not only demonstrate the mastery these musicians have, but that all of them deserved to be larger stars than they were.

Yet some of the song selection is a bit questionable. It’s not that tracks like “Christine,” “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” and “Tell Me Baby” are bad; it’s just that they don’t hold the listener’s interest in the same way the stellar tracks do. So, what was different? That, I have to admit, I’m at a bit of a loss to explain. Maybe it was just that the overall vibe didn’t really lure me in; maybe the songwriting wasn’t as strong, and the performances weren’t enough to overcome that obstacle.

The telling moment on the album comes with the closing track, “Trouble In Mind.” A sparse arrangement featuring just Horton and Bell, as well as Taylor’s guitar, does feel like one is listening to a changing of the guard. Horton’s career was in its ebb; he would release only a few more albums prior to his death in 1981. Meanwhile, Bell’s was just beginning, even with a few albums already under his belt. If anything, this song almost feels as if Horton is granting his blessing for Bell to keep his style of playing alive.

Big Walter Horton With Carey Bell was the only studio album to ever feature these two harp players together, It definitely has its moments, but is not as strong of an album as one might have hoped it would be.

Rating: B-

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