James Cotton, The Complete Sun Singles

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Cotton’s early sides are the birth of a legend

Cotton's Sun output is good enough to make one wonder why he didn't get to do more there. Things start out modestly enough with "My Baby" b/w "Straighten Up Baby," his first single, which has good energy and feel, though perhaps lacks a distinct sound; the former is a slurred, feel-good romp, while the latter rides on a likable enough riff. Guitarist Pat Hare's work is distinctive, kinetic and fully realized, though it barely begins to hint at the mayhem he will next unleash on "Cotton Crop Blues." There, Hare plays lowdown fills as Cotton convincingly lines out the hard-times truths of sharecropping futility and hopelessness — and then the guitarist jumps in with a hair-raising solo that sounds like an urban gang war, playing with an amps-set-at-eleven distortion that consistently threatens to roar out of control but never quite does. His work on "Hold Me In Your Arms," which is pretty much the opposite emotionally, ain't bad, either. Cotton, who would soon head north to join Muddy Waters 'band on harp, doesn't even play on these four sides (except for a little percussion on the last). But his singing is warm and full of youthful exuberance or knowing despair, depending on the song.