Album review: Magic Sam’s ‘Black Magic’ is back

Magic Sam

In two dazzling late-1968 sessions, Magic Sam and his crew, including sax player Eddie Shaw, pianist Lafayette Leake, and second guitarist Mighty Joe Young among them, cut one of the quintessential West Side Chicago soul/blues albums — their second in a row. But just days after “Black Magic” was released, Samuel Maghett was dead of a heart attack at the absurd age of 32.

Intensely rough and tumble, but with the soulfulness of grits and gravy, this incredible music continues to cast a very distinct spell. The men who played it — Sam included — emigrated to the North and quickly learned a whole new survival game. The turbulent streets of Chicago motivated them to spit out their blues, but with their Southern classiness still glimmering in the grooves.

A Mississippian, Magic Sam had been recording for about a decade when Delmark — the oldest blues label in the land — signed him. “West Side Soul,” his debut for the label a year earlier, set the standard and continues to reap all the attention. But “Black Magic” stands tall with it, more polished perhaps, but not one note less soulful and penetrating. The performances brim with purpose and confidence. Down-home never felt so urgent.

This new deluxe edition offers punchy, re-mastered sound and several bonus tracks. But the original album remains the focus, rightfully. Whether it’s Sam’s own “What Have I Done Wrong,” with its hair-raising melodies and his voice resonating anguish, a loose-limbed but nonetheless blistering cover of Lowell Fulson’s “It’s All Your Fault Baby,” or a neat run through Freddie King’s timeless instrumental, “San-Ho-Zay,” there’s nothing else like this.

Blues guitar fans have long championed Magic Sam’s slashing guitar work. But it’s the overall impact that makes this music truly Black and blues Magic.

-Tom Clarke

  • Magic Sam
    “Black Magic”
    Reissue: January 2016
    Label: Delmark
    Notable tracks: “What Have I Done Wrong,” “It’s All Your Fault Baby,” “San-Ho-Zay”

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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