Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Koko Taylor

  • Koko Taylor [Chess, 1972] B+
  • Basic Soul [Chess, 1972] B
  • I Got What It Takes [Alligator, 1975] B+
  • The Earthshaker [Alligator, 1978] B+
  • Queen of the Blues [Alligator, 1985] B+
  • Deluxe Edition [Alligator, 2002] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Koko Taylor [Chess, 1972]
Taylor sounds like you always wanted those women with Big in front of their names to sound--powerful, even rough, without ever altogether abandoning her rather feminine register. But though mentor Willie Dixon is the greatest contemporary blues composer, he's no more reliable album to album than any other song factory--the best lyric here, "Love You Like a Woman" ("But I'll also fight you like a man"), isn't his. Terrific production, though--his soul devices are so crude and obvious they're funny, amazing, or at least odd. B+

Basic Soul [Chess, 1972]
Apparently, what basic soul means to Willie Dixon is basic blues--the music is in the traditional Chicago style, as it should be. But the songs have lost additional wang dang doodle--the standout is "Violent Love," in which Willie and Koko try their hand at camp and don't get bitten. B

I Got What It Takes [Alligator, 1975]
Taylor's first album in three years illustrates the difference between blues as (theoretical) pop music on Chess and blues as (theoretical) art music on Alligator. There's a certain hothouse quality to this album--it's devoid of endearing, enriching commercial vulgarities. But both band (featuring Mighty Joe Young and Sammy Lawhorn on guitar and the endearing Abb Locke on saxophone) and material (from Taylor and Dixon through Elmore James and Magic Sam and Ruth Brown to Otis Spann's unnecessarily theoretical "Blues Never Die") range beyond Chess's commercial strictures, which more than makes up. B+

The Earthshaker [Alligator, 1978]
Considering its size, Taylor's voice has never been what you'd call rich--she flubs the pitch quite a bit, and on the slow ones she's often sounded flat emotionally as well. But it retains amazing presence--by now it's deepened and roughened so much that her late work for Chess sounds girlish by comparison. Two or three of the slow ones here really drag, always a crippling flaw in Chicago blues, but the uptempo stuff is exemplary--the songs are fun as songs, and the guitar on her latest remake of "Wang Dang Doodle" is ace. B+

Queen of the Blues [Alligator, 1985]
This is definitive only in the sense that any good Chicago blues album is. But she does sink her chops into some exceptionally well-conceived songs on the A, and on the B she's got Albert Collins, Son Seals, and Lonnie Brooks sprucing things up guitarwise. Also, not a slow one anywhere. B+

Deluxe Edition [Alligator, 2002]
Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters were subtle, Etta James is more so; in his wry, unschooled way, so even was Hound Dog Taylor. The long-reigning blues mama still isn't subtle-cf. the original "Man Size Job" by Ann Peebles, hardly Billie Holiday herself. She's no composer, either. But she owns owns owns the gender-switched Bo Diddley rewrite "I'm a Woman," the Johnny Otis obscurity "Beer Bottle Boogie," two Louis Jordan covers, and, most dramatically and impressively, "Wang Dang Doodle"-play her version, not Wolf's, at my damn funeral, 'cause maybe it'll wake me up. Both Chicago and jump blues are dealt a short hand by the houserocking idea. But except for Hound Dog himself, nobody has made as much of it as this leather-lunged trouper. Finally she has an album that proves it. A-