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Monday, Aug. 18, 2014

Magic Sam: Live at the Avant Garde, June 22, 1968 (Delmark)

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No Chicago blues star burned brighter or flamed out faster than Magic Sam Maghett, “The King of West Side Blues.” In 1968, he electrified Milwaukee’s East Side Avant Garde, the folkie coffeehouse evolving into a blues, progressive and roots music venue. This powerhouse, well-engineered recording proves that Sam’s gig was meant to be, as the embodiment of blues avant-garde. Nobody had ever heard such hair-raising vocal vibrato and guitar tremolo, a man possessed.

His exuberance infected audiences and these 16 tracks crackle with striking mood-shifts. The pure, percolating boogie “Feelin’ Good” finds Sam wailing “Woooaaahh ah feel so good!” Then he unfurls a slow, thick-as-a-swamp blues “It’s Still Your Fault Baby,” his vibrato groveling in the pit of suffering self-defense. His primal singing, sometimes in double-edged guitar harmony, simultaneously soared and plunged toward hell. Reactionary locals forced The Avant Garde to close a few months later. In December 1969, Sam died of a heart attack at 32. This Milwaukee milestone remains, a magic beacon, his last great recorded gasp of impassioned genius.