Best album released so far this year in my opinion, James Cotton‘s Cotton Mouth Man is everything to be expected from the blues harp master. Cotton pumps his harp as well or better than anybody, and teams with blues icons including Joe Bonamassa and Greg Allman. Cotton doesn’t sing anymore; his voice has degraded into a case of case of the title, and the vocals are performed by an adept group including Ruthie Foster, Delbert McClinton, Warren Haynes and Keb Mo. Cotton does make a rare vocal performance in Bonnie Blue. He’s most special for his prowess on the harp, and it comes out exceptionally well on this album.
Cotton has had an interesting career. He started as the opening act for Sonny Boy Williamson in his teens. Too young to go inside the juke joints, Cotton played on the steps outside, sometimes making more in tips than Sonny Boy did. He replaced Little Walter in Muddy Waters‘ band in the late 50s, giving them his signature with his blues harp. He rejoined Muddy in the 70s after a few years on his own for the classic comeback series produced by Johnny Winter. The James Cotton Blues Band started to take off after that, earning several Grammy nominations in the 80s. He’s been a blues staple ever since. Cotton Mouth Man exhibits his gifts flawlessly. Here’s the title track with JoBo jamming on the guitar: