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Still reigning royalty

Old School
Old School
By Koko Taylor

Alligator Records: 2007

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This review first appeared in the April 19, 2007 issue of the North County Times.

More than four decades have passed since Koko Taylor redefined the mold of the female blues singer for the electric blues age with her seminal recording of Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle." Nobody's even come close to stealing away her position as the Queen of the Blues.

But advancing years (she turns 72 in September) have brought on both health issues and a slowing of her recorded output. It's been seven years since her last album, "Royal Blue," was issued.

She's not done, though. Her new album, "Old School," shows that Taylor still has that fire in her belly, and the powerhouse vocals to match. For the sessions that produced this album, anyway, there are no concessions to age or illness: Taylor is in as large a voice as ever, and the surrounding musicians (notably guitarists Bob "Steady Rollin' " Margolin and Criss Johnson and harpist Billy Branch) are among Chicago's best.

Nobody has ever sung with greater lung power than Taylor, but as she shows on a cover of Magic Sam's "All Your Love," she's always possessed the ability to rein in that voice and caress a lyric as well. Fact is, she's one of the most expressive singers in the history of popular music. If rough-hewn and frayed at the edges, Taylor's voice conveys passions both sublime and restrained.

She's written five new songs for this outing (the opening "Piece of Man" is an instant blues classic), covers two more from Dixon's pen ("Don't Go No Further" and "Young Fashioned Ways") and basically makes everything her own.

The production by Bruce Iglauer, Alligator founder/president, is up to his old "Genuine Houserockin' Music" standards – "Old School" is not only one of Taylor's very best albums in a gold-plated career, it is a jewel of Alligator's own remarkable catalog.