Howlin' Wolf's first and second Chess albums are essential listening of the highest order. They were compiled -- as were all early blues albums -- from various single sessions (not necessarily a bad thing, either), and blues fans will probably debate endlessly about which of the two albums is the perfect introduction to his music. But this CD reissue renders all arguments moot, as both album appear on one disc, making this a true best buy. Wolf's debut opus -- curiously tacked on here after his second album -- features all of his early hits ("How Many More Years," "Moanin' at Midnight," "Smokestack Lightning," "Forty Four," "Evil," and "I Asked for Water [She Gave Me Gasoline]"), and is a pretty potent collection in its own right. But it is the follow-up (always referred to as "the rocking chair album" because of Don Bronstein's distinctive cover art) where the equally potent teaming of Willie Dixon and Wolf produced one Chicago blues classic ("Spoonful," "The Red Rooster," "Back Door Man," "Wang Dang Doodle") after another.
It's also with this marvelous batch of sides that one can clearly hear lead guitarist Hubert Sumlin coming into his own as a blues picking legend. The number of blues acolytes, both black and white, who wore the grooves down to mush learning the songs and guitar licks off these two albums would fill a book all by itself. If you have to narrow it down to just one Howlin' Wolf purchase for the collection, this would be the one to have and undoubtedly the place to start. This and The Best of Muddy Waters are the essential building blocks of any Chicago blues collection. And seldom does the music come with this much personality and brute force.