SOMETIMES reissued recordings can be the unkindest cuts of all. Uninspired performances -- or worse, outright duds -- mercilessly retrieved from a vault can leave a musician feeling betrayed. Happily, Jimmy Witherspoon needn't worry about the quality of his performances on "Spoonful o' Blues." He shines on this small group session led by the ebullient Kansas City pianist Jay McShann.
Witherspoon joined McShann's big band in 1944, but while songs like "Stormy Monday" and "Jelly Jelly" recall that era, most of the music on this album suggests the more intimate R&B style favored by B.B. King and Bobby (Blue) Bland a decade later. In fact, several of the tunes were written by King. One of them, "Boogie Woogie Woman," seems made to order -- a rousing jump blues that finds Witherspoon singing and swinging with plenty of authority.
Still, the term "blues shouter" doesn't do Witherspoon justice. As he demonstrates on several ballads, including the solemn "Sad Life" and the after-hours lament "Don't Have to Cry," Witherspoon has always been able to tap a wellspring of emotion when necessary. Few blues balladeers tell a story as convincingly or as carefully -- you won't find Witherspoon mumbling a lyric. And the support that flows from McShann and tenor saxophonist Maxwell Davis makes these ten performances all the more enjoyable.
JIMMY WITHERSPOON -- "Spoonful o' Blues" (Kent Klp 2005); appearing at Charlie's Georgetown Friday through New Year's Eve.