Johnny Winter

I'm a Blues Man (Virgin)

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There's a bittersweet air about the new Johnny Winter album, his first studio effort in eight years. It's the title. Sad, really, that Winter has to either A) remind us that he's a fabulous blues guitarist -- the first, and perhaps the best, white American player the genre has produced -- or B) introduce himself to a generation that believes Texas-bred Caucasian blues began and ended with Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I'm a Blues Man provides irrefutable evidence that Winter, despite all he's endured (hip surgery was the most recent of his seemingly lifelong health problems), can play the blues like nobody's business. So can his bandmates, particularly harmonica virtuoso James Montgomery, whose addition gives much of the record a grittiness maybe not heard since Second Winter almost 35 years ago. Not everything's on the money. "I Smell Smoke" and "Pack Your Bags" would be better suited to Robert Cray than Winter. The rest of the CD, however, is as raw and rugged as anything the man has done.

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