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Roundup Funky Old Men Blues vets know what time it is. By Bob Weinberg Age suits certain blues artists, bestowing as much as or more than it robs from them. While some performers seem to defy Father Time altogether, others are gone too soon, preserved for posterity at the peak of their powers. The latter was the case with Magic Sam Maghett, a pioneer of the gritty West Side Chicago blues sound, who died of a heart attack at age 32. Maghett and his trio are captured on Live at the Avant Garde (Delmark), a snapshot of the distinctive guitarist and vocal- ist onstage at a Milwaukee nightclub in June 1968, just six months before he died. Maghett rips into signature tunes — “Don’t Want No Woman,” “I Need You So Bad” — as well as Freddy King’s “San-Ho- Zay” and Otis Rush’s “All Your Love (I Miss Lovin’).” Throughout, he displays the biting, reverb-drenched riffs that influenced Clapton and Hendrix. While his music was ice-pick sharp, Maghett reveals playful humor in his banter with the audience and his bandmates. A few years older than Maghett, John Mayall still has plenty of tiger in his tank. His latest release, A Special Life (Forty Below), proves that the 80-year-old godfather of British blues is no museum piece. His versatile band comprises lead guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport, who provide old-school blues, blues-rock and jazzy backing. Mayall is in great form, playing keyboards, guitar and harmonica and singing in his tense adenoidal croon. Tunes such as “World Gone Crazy” invoke long-held concerns for mankind, while “Heartache” and “Just a Memory” reflect romantic longing. But when Mayall throws down on Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s All Right” and Eddie Taylor’s “Big Town Playboy,” he sounds truly invigorated. John Hammond, 71, also stops the clock with the aptly titled Timeless (Palmetto), showcasing jaw-dropping chops on his latest solo live recording. On six-string acoustic and Dobro, he maintains hard-driving grooves, triphammering through Tom Waits’ “No One Can Forgive Me But My Baby,” Little Walter’s “Tell Me Mama” and Big Joe Williams’ “Drop Down Mama.” Vocally, Hammond’s at an expres- sive apex, evident in reads of Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying” and his own “Heartache Blues.” And he’s a harmonica master, pulling emotionally resonant draughts from the instrument racked around his neck. His closer, Chuck Berry’s “No Money Down,” raises apprecia- tive whoops from the audience at Chan’s in Rhode Island. At age 72, chitlin’ circuit vet Bobby Rush continues to wear his horny heart on his silky sleeve. While the first couple of tracks on Decisions (Silver Talon) come across as a bit too dutiful — including Rush’s pairing with Dr. John on the moody “Another Murder in New John Hammond Orleans” — Rush soon gets down to the business of booty. “Bobby Rush’s Bus” provides a peek inside the party wagon, with the singer hosting guest soloists such as saxophonist Mindi Abair and harmonica ace Billy Branch (see below). Throughout, Rush receives first-rate accompaniment from Blinddog Smokin’, a well-traveled California band, and his give-and-take with band leader Carl Gustafson is often hilarious. Tunes such as “Funky Old Man” and “Skinny Little Ladies” are definitive Rush, complete with ribald lyr- ics, funky grooves, female backing vocals and laughs usually at the expense of the raw-voiced singer. Meanwhile, “Love of a Woman” and “Sittin’ Here Waitin’” return Rush to his rural Louisiana roots. Chicago native Billy Branch was a Windy City youngblood when he founded Sons of the Blues in the ’70s. He’s led several incarnations of the band, and his cutting harmonica and engaging voice power their latest release, Blues Shock (Blind Pig). Branch, 62, incorporates R&B and rock in his blues, but he never turns his back on his roots. His cover of Willie Dixon’s “Crazy Mixed Up World” is a highlight, as the harp blower surfs the swing of an expert rhythm section. The title track and “Function at the Junction” keep the party rolling, and Branch ups the intensity whenever he draws his harp. A nice change of pace, his lovely “Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time” pays homage to the woman who ran Chicago’s legendary Palm Tavern. s