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Nico Wayne Toussaint Nico Wayne Toussaint
Album: ...Plays James Cotton
Label: DixieFrog
Tracks: 13
Website: http://www.nicowaynetoussaint.com

The French blues harmonica player and singer Nico Wayne Toussaint here pays ample tribute to his all-time mentor and greatest influence James Cotton, who passed away last March at the age of 81. Toussaint's own repertoire is rooted in the 1950s Chicago blues sound, which makes sense when you remember Cotton's long association with Chicago blues giant Muddy Waters. But to me, there's always been something of a transatlantic, European feel to Toussaint's music that's overlaid the strong Chicago groove, and on this album that feel is accentuated by his backing crew, a top-flight eight-piece band including horn section, guitar and keyboards. Additionally there's a special guest appearance by trumpeter-singer Boney Fields, who turns in a stunning solo on opening track No Cuttin' Loose.

The dead-ahead high-energy charge of these performances (mostly studio, with a couple of cuts recorded live) is really infectious, and while Rocket 88 packs a mighty punch in barely two minutes, the frantic push-pull of Cotton's celebrated tune Midnight Creeper is almost worth the price of admission on its own (as the audience reception demonstrates). And then there's the more pacey yet brilliantly economic (2½-minute) Cotton Crop Blues - whose blazing harp solo says all it needs to and more within its controlled timespan. It goes without saying that my favourite moments on this album are inevitably the harp showcases - slow drag Born In Missouri and mid-tempo strut How Long Can A Fool Go Wrong? especially.

But having said that, Toussaint's rendition of the Cotton composition Down At Your Buryin', during the course of which his blistering yet restrained harp trades licks with J.P. Legout's piano, can also be considered a disc highlight - so it's a double shame that the track's faded out during his second solo. But hey, this whole set's a formidable achievement, one which fairly bursts with excellent musicianship, and without doubt conveys (as intended) the music and spirit of Cotton's famous Live In Chicago set; so on those terms alone it's gotta be the best possible tribute to the harp legend.

David Kidman