Live Around the World: The Best of Junior Wells

by: Junior Wells

Culled from various live recordings Junior Wells made in his final year or so, Live Around the World: The Best Of is not a "best-of." Instead, it intends to present the legendary Chicago bluesman in a late-career renaissance -- or, as Donald E. Wilcock says in his affectionate liner notes, "This album is not the last gasps of a dying legend." To a certain extent that's true, because Wells does not sound tired, weary, or disengaged. He turns in spirited, energetic performances throughout and his harp playing remains a marvel, never following expected routes, always melodic and invigorating. That doesn't mean the album itself is invigorating, something that is a worthy bookend to Hoodoo Man Blues, since it suffers from the problem that plagues so many contemporary blues albums -- clean, precise production with perfectly separated instruments, plus the band's tendency to veer into funk vamps instead of dirty grooves. Even if Wells sounds good, the music as a whole feels too polished for its own good, which is really not the way Chicago blues should sound. That said, this is certainly no worse than the average contemporary blues album and in many ways, even better, thanks to Wells. He was a powerhouse right until the very end, and if you just listen to him play, Live Around the World does seem like a fitting epilogue to his career, although it's hard not to wish that this were a collection of greasy, intimate club dates instead of slick concert dates in Osaka and Paris. Perhaps then the band would have sounded as alive as Wells. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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