Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Howlin' Wolf: His Best [Chess, 1997]
Having caught Don McGlynn's wide-ranging, performance-chocked 2003 documentary The Howlin' Wolf Story on Prime, I wondered which of the Wolf CD comps I play I'd Consumer Guided and was chagrined to find not just that the answer was none but that only 1971's The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions was anywhere near the top of his Amazon offerings. Fortunately, Discogs told a different story: this and the slightly slacker but no way "folk" The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues are easy to snag used there, and snagging both wouldn't be a bad idea. Not for nothing did Sam Phillips, who recorded Wolf two years before he got to Elvis, always speak of the man born Chester Burnett in 1910 as a wonder of nature at least equal to Presley himself. The rough power of an almost feral voice devoid of the grandeur to which such huge voices generally aspire remains unequalled and almost unparalleled, and not only that he could write: 10 of the 20 classics here--most of them pre-1960, before Willie Dixon stepped in--are his creations: "Moanin' at Midnight," "Smokestack Lightnin'," "Evil," "Killing Floor," more. As McGlynn's film makes clear, the feral thing wasn't so much an act as a fact of nature that Wolf had the brains to stylize. He was also a fine guitarist who knew Hubert Sumlin was even better. To say he was often imitated as opposed to emulated would be an exaggeration. He was inimitable, a wonder of nature who made the most of it. A+