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'Electric Mud' is an antidote for the beer-commercial blues

My relationship with the blues has often given me the blues.

I'm aware that most popular music is rooted in the blues. I happily spent a good portion of my teenage years tracing the form's development backward, starting with Led Zeppelin, and ending up way down in the Mississippi Delta with Son House. But then came this canonization of the blues as "The Blues," a sort of members-only club where anything that didn’t follow blues chord changes and adhere to the blues shuffle was deemed sacrilege. It seemed there was a Stevie Ray Vaughan wanna-be everywhere you looked. I grew bored. I resisted. I looked elsewhere for inspiration.

I found it in a Muddy Waters album that was overflowing with the irreverence and creativity I'd found lacking in so much electric blues made after, say, 1975. "Electric Mud" - about to be reissued on "Chess-nut Brown" vinyl by Jack White's Third Man Records label (Nov. 17) – was released in 1968, and it infuriated blues purists. You see, Waters – the father of the original electric blues that has been watered down to a Bud Lite Lime consistency by this point – joined forces with a young psychedelic rock-blues outfit from Chicago known as Rotary Connection, as well as future Miles Davis guitarist Pete Cosey,  for this album.  Self-appointed guardians of the blues might have found it all to be a travesty, but there is no finer, more visceral and inspired blues album from that period. You can hear the influence of "Electric Mud" today, everywhere from the White Stripes and the Black Keys to Rival Sons, Beth Hart and Gary Clark, Jr.

It’s a masterpiece of sonic thrust and effortless soul. And every time I feel "The Blues" starting to give me the blues again, I reach for it.

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