Critic’s pick 261: Buddy Guy, ‘Live at Legends’

“Don’t say nothing,” Buddy Guy whispers after the onset of his thundering new concert recording Live at Legends. “I’m not through yet.”

The line isn’t some whimsical command or even an aside. It is essentially a cue. As anyone who has witnessed him in performance will tell you, Buddy Guy’s fingers – fleeting as they are on these jewels cut at his Legends club in Chicago – seldom keep up with the ideas he conjures. So the iconic guitarist’s remark means a change is dead ahead. Sure enough, the rockish jolt of Best Damn Fool comes to a sudden and premature stop and is replaced in an instant by the testifying groove of the Muddy Waters staple Mannish Boy.

Guy has pulled this trick onstage for ages. You hear it on Live at Legends as he gives us a walking, talking history of the American inspirations that fueled the late-’60s British blues boom. For instance, a snippet of John Lee Hooker’s classic shuffle Boom Boom is cut short for a brief, quiet and powerfully suppressed serving of Cream’s Strange Brew. Then Guy is off and running into Jimi Hendrix territory, transforming Voodoo Chile into a slab of sweaty funk. But Guy doesn’t get to sing as much as a verse of the song before the music steers back onto Cream turf for the familiar riff to Sunshine of Your Love.

The whole joyride takes a little more than six minutes. That’s Guy for you. One of the few blues legends to live long enough to benefit from the adoration and influence he has given to successive generations of players, the guitarist doesn’t waste time – his or yours. Luckily, though, Live at Legends also awards us with a healthy blast of the amped-up intensity found in his own tunes.

“Now here’s the way Buddy Guy sounds,” the guitarist states before diving into Damn Right I Got the Blues, the song that basically reintroduced him to a new generation of fans two decades ago. But even here there is a paradox. As with the nine-minute version of Willie Dixon’s I Just Want to Make Love to You that precedes it, Damn Right doesn’t present the blues is any conventional design. Instead, both tunes are served as huge, rockish torrents. It’s in keeping with a stylistic mesh that Guy perfected some 45 years ago. And on Live at Legends, the blend sounds as vital and immediate as ever. But credit that as much to the gospel-driven vigor of Guy’s singing as his guitar work.

Three new studio tunes, highlighted by the solemn barrelhouse blues of Country Boy, conclude the record. But Live at Legends is at its finest when the ageless abandon of Guy’s concert sound, scattered as it sometimes gets, is given room to roar.

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