"Cotton's playing is not all brute strength. The true secret of his amazing sound is the way he blends power with many subtle textural and rhythmic effects, with a keen sense of dynamics. Like his first mentor, Sonny Boy Williamson, Cotton is a master phraser." —Tom Townsley, Blues Revue
Harmonica virtuoso James Cotton presents a mix of his own new tunes with swinging traditional favorites on Fire Down Under the Hill. His new Telarc album is an all-acoustic affair that features Cotton's hardedged Delta stylings backed by his regular road band of guitarist Rico McFarland, pianist David Maxwell and vocalist Darrell Nulisch. Cotton's weathered singing and exquisite harmonica playing have never sounded better.
The album eases into a subtle blues groove with "Cotton Jump Boogie," spotlighting Cotton's crisp harp work. Other choice cuts include Muddy Waters' "Woman Wanted," Nulisch's gritty vocal delivery on "Boot Knockin' Boogie," and the instrumental track "Lightning," with McFarland's solid rhythm guitar and Maxwell's lush piano playing. Cotton puts a traditional spin on the title track, "Fire Down Under the Hill," which burns for nearly 11 minutes—as always, understated but full of emotion. Another gem is the chilling closer "Something to Remember You By."
Grammy winner James Cotton is one of the all-time greats of the blues harmonica—one of the last of the original Chicago gang who played and recorded some of the most exciting blues music ever. Cotton was born in Tunica, Mississippi in 1935. At the age of 9, he began his apprenticeship with harp ace Sonny Boy Williamson. Cotton was in Memphis in the early '50s and landed a gig with Howlin' Wolf, recording Saddle My Pony at Sun Studios. His breakthrough Cotton Crop Blues was released in 1954, and not long after, he began his 12-year association with Muddy Waters.
In 1999, Cotton was featured on Telarc's aptly titled Superharps (CD-83472), a heavyweight blues summit with fellow harmonica champs Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Branch and Sugar Ray Norcia, and he was a special guest on 1998's A Tribute to Howlin' Wolf (CD-83427).