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Record Review - 1 January 06 2001


One of the more colorful characters working in the blues genre, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater's eye-catching Indian headdress, note-perfect Chuck Berry riffs, sharp left-handed string bending, booming voice and general showmanship come naturally to the perpetually grinning 65-year old Mississippi-born/Chicago-bred musician. Clearwater (his name's a play on Muddy Waters) is an entertainer first and a bluesman next, and with almost 50 years of experience, he intrinsically understands what pushes the audience's buttons.
Reservation Blues comfortably picks up where his last album, the W.C. Handy Award-nominated Cool Blues Walk, left off. Guitarist Duke Robillard returns as producer and, along with his band, provides the supple framework on which Clearwater lays his stinging six-string leads, congenial vocals and unpretentious approach.
Not the most innovative or intense bluesman on the block, Clearwater's still one of the more enjoyable, energetic and eclectic, as he blows through amiable versions of decidedly non-bluesy fare such as Berry's "Sweet Little Rock and Roller" and Dale Hawkins' "Suzie Q" remarkably enough to make even those warhorses sound fresh. The swamp rock of "Wind of Change" oozes out of the Chief's backwoods home, and Clearwater's greasy gospel "Wall of Hate" is as heartfelt as anything the Staple Singers churned out for Stax.
That the good-natured Clearwater doesn't add anything unique to the genres in which he works isn't surprising, or even disappointing. There's comfort in knowing that, in the latter part of his career, he can release a modest yet perfectly delightful album and that, live, he'll still tear down the house with his talent, charm and love of playing.
Eddy Clearwater plays Blind Willie's, Sun., Jan. 7.