One of the greatest blues maestros to ever strap a guitar around his neck, Otis Rush helped define the Chicago blues of the '50s with his distinctive six-string style and sweet, smooth vocals. Like many bluesmen of his generation, however, Rush's career is a legacy of great performances marred by missed opportunities and scattered possibilities. Rush's Live in Japan 1986 album is one such example. Released in 1994, the disc captures a December 1986 performance in Tokyo, Rush backed by a perfunctory Japanese band by the name of Break Down. Although the local musicians have a rudimentary knowledge of the genre, they lack the chops and experience that any makeshift West Side Chicago band would bring to the material. Rush hits the mark with several performances, notably the extended instrumental "Tops," his '50s hits "All Your Love" and "Double Trouble," and a smoking encore cover of B.B. King's "Gambler's Blues." An embarrassing reading of James Brown's "Please, Please, Please" offers some tasty six-string work by Rush but lacks the funky energy of the original (or even other Rush performances of the song). The band completely fudges Howlin' Wolf's classic "Killing Floor," the song's only redeeming quality found in Rush's growling vocals (certainly not in the solos afforded the band's two local guitarists). The inconsistency of Rush's performance and the mediocre skills of the backing band make Live in Japan 1986 a mixed bag appealing mostly to blues completists and Rush fanatics. Newcomers to the blues who want to experience some of the magic of Otis Rush would be better served by checking out his Cobra label recordings.
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