Forty Four – A Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf
By Georgetown Fats
When presented with the opportunity to review Motor City Josh’s “Forty Four-A Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf”, skepticism immediately surfaced. The musical catalogs of Willie Dixon and Chester Burnett are well-mined sources, and, given that the late great John Lee Hooker is often associated with The Motor City, it was also curious of Motor City Josh, also known as Josh Ford, to have been chosen Howlin’ Wolf.
Given Jason Ricci’s special guest status on the disk, and given Ford’s choices of tracks, “Forty Four – A Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf” was worth a few initial spins.
“Forty Four – A Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf” opens with Ford’s interpretation of one of Wolf’s signature tunes “Forty Four”. Though possessing a similar vocal timbre’ to Wolf’s, Ford wisely leads his five piece band with this arrangement. Though Ford has the grit, attributed to his fourteen plus years of smoking, he does not have Wolf’s growl. So by making his arrangement of “Forty Four” into an up-tempo blues rock piece Motor City Josh added some originality and play to the strengths of the band.
On “Spoonful” though Motor City Josh’s recording does have a great sound bite from an audio recording of Howlin’ Wolf, the arrangement is a lackluster rehash of previously recorded versions. Even the somewhat reserved harp fills from Jason Ricci and Wolf’s own vocals can’t save this one.
For “Evil is going on” Ford once again kicks the tempo up over the original recording and focuses the track on his own slide guitar rather than trying to reproduce another classic track. The use of stop time and Justin Headley’s drum work provide a big funky groove for Ford to lay down a fairly strong slide guitar solo. It is a cover that Motor City Josh certainly has people up and dancing to with this rendition in a live setting.
Sadly Motor City Josh felt the need to also cover “Sittin’ on top of the world”. Not as widely known as the majority of the other hits on this disk, Ford’s attempt would have been best left on the cutting room floor or as a B-Side. Ford’s gruff vocals are not up to the challenge by yet he tries to reproduce the original rather than take it into a new direction. Again he processes Wolf-like vocal grit, but there is a difference between achieving the grit through 14+ years of smoking as opposed to growing up singing field hollers and blues yodels.
Ultimately the 13 tracks on "Forty Four – A Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf" are a musical mixed bag. When Motor City Josh takes some risks and leaps with arrangements "Forty Four – A Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf" is very good. When they don't take risks and leaps, the results leave Ford sounding more than happy to walk in Wolf's immense shadow and path rather than trying to create his own.