Essential primarily as a historical document, this album's tapes – recorded in 1970 only three weeks before the pianist's death from liver cancer – were thought to have been destroyed until they were found in a warehouse in 1999. Otis Spann, the classic Chicago bluesman whose work is revered and studied by almost every blues pianist who followed in his wake, was so weak that he couldn't sing, and was clearly not at the top of his form for these shows. Spann's wife Lucille handles the vocals on the majority of the tracks, and her powerful singing seems to push Spann to perform with his classic restraint and style. Still, there's plenty of interest here. Spann's tinkling work on Big Joe Turner's "Chains of Love" shows that his chops were still sharp, even as he knew he was in death's final throes. Another Muddy Waters sideman, Luther "Snake" Johnson, handles the vocals and guitar duties on workmanlike but unspectacular covers of Muddy's "Long Distance Call" and "I Got My Mojo Working." But the instrumental workout on "Stomp With Spann" and the intro to "My Baby (Sweet As an Apple)," the latter with a vocal from Lucille so gritty and intense it's a wonder it didn't knock the frail pianist from his bench, best exhibit the subtle quality that made Spann's playing so magnificent. His inconspicuous but reliable backup band for these dates was also unusually understated. The sound, taken from 7" reel-to-reel tapes that had been in storage for almost 30 years, is remarkably clean and only the clunky mix – which isolates Lucille onto one side of the stereo, and the guitar played by this album's producer and label president Peter Malick onto the other – belies the age and raw qualities of the recording. Spann's playing remains classy, modest, yet flexible even during the final shows of his legendary life, making this a short but sweet reminder that the man lived the blues. A final track, "Blues for Otis," recorded in 1998, is a loving tribute from Malick to Spann and closes the disc out with a sweet, heartfelt coda. Undoubtedly not the place to start your Otis Spann collection, Last Call is still a remarkable album to own for any Chicago blues fan. It shows that the blues ran deep in this musician, and even in his last weeks on earth, his playing plumbed the depth of his soul.
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