Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck has certainly broken more boundaries than any other picker in recent memory, from his early days performing bluegrass-inspired folk compositions on Rounder in the late '70s to his quirky jazz freak-outs with the Flecktones throughout the '90s. In late 2001, this peculiar innovator released an album of banjo interpretations of classical works by Bach, Chopin, and Scarlatti. Before classical purists roll their eyes, they must remember that the banjo hasn't always been seen as the instrument of choice of backwoods musicians in the Appalachian mountains, but as recently as the 1940s was used as a primary rhythm instrument in all manner of parlor music.
Rhino's 2001 retrospective The Very Best of Miki Howard is a generous, near-definitive overview of Howard's biggest R&B hits from the '80s. She didn't have many crossover hits, but she did have numerous entries on the R&B charts, all of which are here, including a duet with Gerald Levert, "That's What Love Is." Although this is a little lengthy for listeners with abbreviated attention spans, it does summarize Howard's peak very well, and is as comprehensive a Howard retrospective as could be hoped for.
The boastful title is no exaggeration; this is a welcome return for the classic Chicago blues sideman, who, primarily because of the misfortune of his music being exploited by other musicians, took a self-imposed retirement for nearly 30 years. It's especially rewarding since Williams – whose work you hear on early Howlin' Wolf, Otis Spann, Bo Diddley, Billy Boy Arnold (who guests here) sides – hadn't played a lick during that time, keeping his guitar stashed under his bed. He sounds like he never put the instrument away on this album, the first cohesive disc under his own name ever. Aided by comparative youngsters Tinsley Ellis, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and Rusty Zinn, along with a 21-year-old Sean Costello, Williams holds the spotlight like the pro his is. Though well into his sixties when this was recorded in 2001, he sounds remarkably vibrant, completely confident, and totally in his element.