Seven years since her last album, three and a half years after a life-threatening illness, Koko Taylor comes roaring back with an album meant to recapture the sound and spirit of classic Chicago blues of the 1950s and '60s. It's probably impossible to do that with today's technology -- but the closer the music comes to its goal, the better it sounds.
Taylor works here with three different bands, two of which have some overlapping personnel, and the twelve songs are split equally between her originals and old favorites. Her voice understandably shows a little wear and tear, but even as she approaches 72, she's hardly about to tone it down just yet. Still, what's most impressive is not her raw power, formidable though it remains, but the way she keeps her absolutely sure rhythmic footing as she shouts, growls and rasps though the likes of "Gonna Buy Me A Mule" and "Better Watch Your Step".
The best of the three bands -- featuring guitarists Bob Margolin and Chriss Johnson and harmonica player Billy Branch -- cranks up a fearsome, foreboding sound on Lefty Dizz's "Bad Avenue". Co-producer Johnson is such a versatile guitarist that he's been known to overplay, veering into histrionic blues-rock while trying to show off all he knows -- but he's also more than capable of concise, passionate work that packs the same wallop as Koko's voice, His dentist-drill solos on Magic Sam's "All Your Love" save a song that probably should have been cut a tad shorter.
Margolin's searing, insistent slide on Memphis Minnie's "Bad Rat" is like repeated slaps in the face, back and forth, back and forth. And Branch's relatively thin harmonica sound is remarkably effective; he cuts through the rest of the band like a hot knife through butter. Even with occasional lapses, Koko and crew make Old School sound fresh again, one more time.