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In the music spotlight: The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions (Chess/MCA)

Culture

Issue: "Memorial Day 2003," May 24, 2003

In the early 1970s, Chess Records released a series of albums matching electric-blues legends with young, white, and usually British musicians. The best title in the series, The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions (Chess/MCA), has just been reissued in a "deluxe" edition that adds three bonus tracks plus an extra disc of previously unreleased takes that are anything but sucker bait. Consistently enjoyable, only the $29.99 list price will strike Americana lovers as prohibitive.

Born Chester Burnett, Howlin' Wolf was 69 when he and his all-star cast (Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts) holed up in a London studio to craft these versions of his best-known songs. That the results have remained in print for over 30 years testifies not only to their enduring freshness but also perhaps to the perennially if subconsciously edifying spectacle of top-flight rock stars (who are ego-maniacs by definition) placing their talents at the service of something or someone greater than themselves.

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