For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters, by Mud Morganfield and Kim Wilson is a an album that not only pays homage to a man and his sound, but faithfully recreates it while avoiding the potential pitfalls that all tributes face. It is a fitting way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Muddy Waters birthday.
First and foremost, Mud is not trading on his father’s name; he is a talent in his own right. While he sounds eerily like Muddy, in both phrasing and tone, he is not doing an impression, he has his own voice. The entire production is steeped in respect for the elder Morganfield, and the project achieves its goal of honoring the blues legend.
Aside from resembling the late Muddy Waters in both voice and appearance, Mud Morganfield (born Larry Williams to Muddy and Mildred McGhee) is a solid performer. His singing style is relaxed and natural, not forced or contrived. In places it would be easy to mistake his voice for that of his father, and in other places it is clearly his own. Close your eyes and you could imagine yourself in the south side of the Windy City.
Kim Wilson brings his formidable skill on the harp to bear throughout. The band is first-rate and exemplifies the ensemble playing that is trademark of the Chicago style. Everyone gets a chance to shine, but there are no self-indulgent solos to mar the proceedings. The rhythm section of Steve Gomes and Rob Stupka is tight and provides the sturdy framework from which everyone else is able to work their magic.
The song selection features some well- known Muddy Waters songs, as well as some lesser known tunes. Wisely absent are songs like “Mannish Boy” and “Got My Mojo Working.” The album opens with “Gone to Main Street,” wherein the singer declares his love by taking his woman downtown to buy her “anything that you lack.” By the end of the song she is moving on. The humorous side of the blues is here as well. On “Just to Be with You” Mud declares, “If a shark bit off my legs/and the sea turned to sand/turn my poor self over/I’ll come on home to you on my hands.” Dealing with gossip is the focus of “My Dog Can’t Bark.” The frustration boils over because “the people talk about me and you/I done got tired/I’m gonna talk some too/they say my dog can’t bark/and my cat can’t scratch.” Kim Wilson’s harp underscores the trials of relating to a woman who is “Nineteen Years Old.” The whole group swings on “Trouble No More.” All in all, this is an immensely satisfying family affair.