Muddy Waters - Muddy Waters at Newport 1960 (1960), 4/10

Muddy Waters largely sticks to his guns in this live performance but when the band stretches outside their comfort zone the results are surprisingly impactful. Unfortunately, it takes far too long for the album to grow and develop beyond its initially lackluster start, making the experience unworthy of classic status. Still, even the formulaic and predictable are elevated by the leading man’s charisma and talent for tight, consistent delivery. There were more soulful blues artists before and since, but this is still a solid, impressive live performance of electric blues, a genre that struggles for its imparity. The tracks range from tedious to magnetic, creating a harsh shift in energy that simultaneously feels exasperating and relieving. The album illustrates the weaknesses of blues at the beginning of the sixties, perhaps more telling of the genre’s history than of the band’s performance, especially of the leading man. Particularly a song like “Tiger in Your Tank” simply falls flat and does nothing to energize the ears. The second half of the performance, partially due to the audience’s apprehension and partially due to the questionable pacing, sees a remarkable change in energy and signals a much-needed freedom from the tidy presentation of the first. The band and the audience loosen up to feel the music and revive the experience. The apparent unfamiliarity of the audience explains much of this effect but does not help its listenability, especially considering the compositionally challenged first half in comparison to the second. Unsurprisingly, artists like Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton were inspired by a performance as average as their respective tastes, with all of the above focusing on live performance over artistic achievement or originality. The energetic part two of “Got My Mojo Working” sets up a soulful conclusion from “Goodbye Newport Blues” that feels genuine and poetic. There are significantly more stirring blues records, but Muddy Waters performance at Newport still provides a charming window into the blues and its place in history at the start of the sixties.