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Music Reviews

Williams, Elmo & Hezekiah Early – “Takes One to Know One” – [Fat Possum Records]

selector   8/24/2014   Blues, CD

 

Lots of loud rockin blues out of Natchez Mississippi. Elmo fronts with vocals and jams wildly distorted riffs on a Fender, while Hezekiah plays the snare drum and harmonica (simultaneously). Pretty simple, fuzzy, raw, crankin’ electric blues. 1998 release from Fat Possum Records. My favorites: Blue, Booster, Hoopin’, and Natchez for the loud distortiony sound.

— selector

Mississippi: Saints & Sinners [coll] – [Rounder Records]

abacus   8/21/2014   Blues, CD

deep Delta roots as collected by Alan Lomax ’36-’42. riverside penitentiary hollerin, red-light ragtime bounce, hard-times and hopeful times; hunt songs, work songs, prison songs, and Reverend Savage church songs. and man oh man that Hemphill make some sounds! plenty of interviews, introductions and interjections to place us right there in the dust with the heat and the hunger and the fireflies and hard work days and no work days all for the white man’s cake and cream. yeah Times Is Getting Hard.

Brooks, Hadda – “Queen of The Boogie” – [Bayside Record Dist.]

humana   7/10/2014   12-inch, Blues

Looks can be deceiving, and while the smiling woman on the album cover looks lovely and elegant, she probably can pack a punch, if her amazing piano playing is any indication. She shows chops for sure in each of the songs on this album. Remember the Scott Joplin we added a while back? This is in a league with that. Fantastically energetic boogie and blues, most recorded in 1945-1950, not a one of these will disappoint. Sometimes Brooks is joined by sax, bass, drums, and guitar. She sings on one (B4). I know this gem will get a lot of play. Read the sleeve notes for more facts about this gifted musician.

Jackson, Lil Son – “Lil Son Jackson” – [Arhoolie Productions]

mickeyslim   7/2/2014   12-inch, Blues

 

Born in Texas in August 1916 as Melvin Jackson. Wasn’t a child prodigy like his contemporary, Lightnin’ Hopkins, but did learn to be a mechanic. It wasn’t until after serving in WWII that he decided to make a living playing the guitar, when he earned his nickname for his short stature. Eventually went on to record for Imperial Records with a couple hits.

Coming home from a performance or something, his driver fell asleep at the wheel resulting in a crash. His injuries were enough to make him leave to business, and he went back to being a mechanic.

Great blues numbers here, all tracks are Jackson solo on guitar and vox. Songs about love (Girl I love, Roberta Blues, Louise Blues), foreign places (Cairo Blues, Santa Fe Blues), and general blues-i-ness. Almost MS delta sound, but unique in its own right.

Recorded by Arhoolie label-founder Chris Strachwitz in 1960 (the year he founded the label) in Dallas, TX.

Gibbs, Philip – “Box Canyon Blues” – [Self Release]

humana   4/29/2014   Blues, CD

This is a guy and his guitar, except for the last song, which includes other instruments. Gibbs wrote most of the songs on here, and he sings them and plays them with a simplicity and beauty that are rare and true. It’s blues, country, human, and just plain great. Every one is a pleasure to listen to, and I can’t wait to fill in again so I can play me some of these. They are short, sweet, and to the point.

Burks, Michael – “Show of Strength” – [Alligator Records]

billiejoe   4/8/2014   Blues, CD

CD from the acclaimed blues artist from Milwaukee. He just passed away in 2012, this was his last album that came out the same year. It’s electric guitar and drum heavy. His talented guitar playing shines. The lyrics are quite cheesy and are about love, both lost and celebrated. What the songs lack in poetic language they more than made up for with Burks’ passionate creative execution. Since I Been Loving You is my favorite. It seems the most honest to me.

 

Live At The Bootleggers [coll] – [Sutro Park]

mickeyslim   2/19/2014   12-inch, Blues

Good ol’ fashioned, foot stompin’ live blues music. REcorded live at a bootlegger’s place of business while these three show us what they’re made of. Lattie Murrel, William Floyd Davis, and the Bootlegger himself all make an appearance on here. Murrel plays solo clean fingerpicked Mississippi Delta style, kind of slow and drudging. Davis is more of a faster paced shuffling strumming. The Bootlegger is accompanied by a few others and plays with a full quartet on a couple tracks.

Keep in mind there’s some FCCs between the tracks on the B-Side. Apparently the Bootlegger is a cusser, too. Well written liner notes. Enjoy!

I Heard The Angels Singing: Electrifying Black Gospel [coll] – [Tompkins Square]

Cousin Mary   2/12/2014   Blues, CD

This 4-CD Tompkins Square reissue has 80 mostly great tracks of Gospel music from the Nashboro label that were recorded between 1951 and 1983. Profoundly Christian songs praise Jesus, heaven, and salvation, but are enjoyable by even nonreligious music lovers. Almost all songs were new to me and feature excellent vocals; many have great instrumental accompaniment. Have fun making a joyful noise unto the Lord! Can I get an amen?

Mississippi Sheiks, The – “Complete Recorded Works Volume 3” – [Third Man Records]

mickeyslim   1/22/2014   12-inch, Blues

Volume Three in a collection of the complete recorded works of the influential, original Mississippi Sheiks. Just the duo of guitarist Walter Vinson and violinist Lonnie Chatman in these recordings, the Sheiks also performed and recorded with the likes of Sam Chatmon and Bo Carter. These recordings come from three different sessions: October 24 and 25, 1931 in Atlanta, and July 20, 1932 in Grafton, WI.

Solid, all original, old blues tunes in the country Delta style. Most of the tracks are uplifting or hopeful, with the occasional downer. The Sheiks had been together for fiveto six years by this point and you can tell, the guitar and violin intermingle quite nicely. Chatman has a deeper voice, and contrasts the weeping of his violin playing.

Recordings from just before the Great Depression. My favorites were A1-3, A8, B2-3, B7-9, but they all have their time and place. Another excellent blues gem.. a sapphire if you will.

United Sacred Harp Convention – “Alan Lomax Recordings, 1959, The” – [Mississippi Records]

Cousin Mary   12/11/2013   12-inch, Blues

In 1959, Alan Lomax recorded four-part Sacred Harp singing in stereo for the first time at this convention in Alabama. Sacred Harp is a book of folk hymns, many with origins in the British Isles. The singers divide among the four walls and then each group sings its unique part. The words are hard to make out, but there is fine spirit here.

PGM: Numbers in the titles refer to the page in the Sacred Harp Hymnal.

Boyce, RL – “Ain’t The Man’s Alright” – [Sutro Park]

mickeyslim   8/6/2013   12-inch, Blues

World boogie is coming! Inspired by other Mississippi folks R.L. Burnside and Mississippi Fred McDowell, RL Boyce started playing music as a child drumming on a foot tub and slowly moved on to playing the guitar. His first recording was when he was 15 on a track with his uncle, Othar Turner.

Sounds a lot like a more boogie-ing RL Burnside, really. Not as electric as Burnside, but sounds good with the band backing him. Duel drums on two-thirds of the tracks. Plays with his usual cast of friends: Luther Dickinson (guitar), Lightnin’ Malcom (guitar), and Calvin Jackson and Cedric Burnside (drums). Good ol’ blues sounds on a bluesman’s long awaited full length debut. Legit..

Coyote Slim and Teurfs, Colin – “California Delta Blues” – [Self Release]

mickeyslim   7/16/2013   Blues, CD

A man, his guitar, and a pal accompanying on harmonica, sitting playing the blues. New self-released album from Coyote Slim and Colin Teurfs. Good shuffling jumpin’ blues music here..

Slim plays somewhat broken guitar rhythm patterns on a couple tracks and knows his way around the Mississippi Delta style. His unique voice is hauntingly low and a bit grizzy, contrasting the higher pitch harmonica wail. The tracks have a stripped down feel because it’s only just the two of them, and it sounds a little produced, but it gives the guitar sound a crisp clean crunch. His voice gives the tracks a sense of honesty and truthfulness. Track 3 is a true story of his house burning down. Of course, I’m a sucker for “Slim’s Boogie” which is a toe tapper…

The two tracks without the harmonica seem to be lacking, but track 4 (Charlie Patton tune) still holds it’s own. I like that the Teurfs knows how to keep a good rhythm with the harmonica AND can also tear it up when he needs. Great new self-release from local bluesman, who’d have thought?

Origins of American Primitive Guitar [coll] – [Tompkins Square]

humana   7/8/2013   12-inch, Blues

This is like a step back in time to early rural America, and reading the liner notes on the album is essential to appreciating the significance of the music contained herein. The artists on this record took guitars and banjos and introduced them to parlors in much the same way that hosts of salons in France introduced literary ideas and philosophy. Dating from 1923 to 1938, most of the songs are instrumental, although Side B contains a bit more commentary to accompany the music. Sylvester Weaver’s “Guitar Blues” was the first finger picked guitar solo to be recorded, ever.

Ridgley, Tommy – “Tommy Ridgley Collection, The” – [Acrobat Music]

humana   6/9/2013   Blues, CD

Two discs chock full of R&B nostalgia. I thoroughly enjoyed how this made me feel like I was doing domestic chores like my mother, listening to excellent music to help me through the mundane nature of what I was doing. The New Orleans native performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival from 1972 until his death in 1999. You can???t go wrong, no matter which disc or song you sample. Enjoy.

Drop On Down In Florida [coll] – [Dust-To-Digital]

Cousin Mary   6/5/2013   Blues, CD

Originally recorded from 1977 to 1980 as an NEA project, Dust-to-Digital is bringing these tracks from African Americans in North Florida to the public’s attention again. Some songs record how blacks came to Florida from other parts of the deep South for better opportunities. One CD of secular music in the blues tradition includes Moses Williams’ one string zither – a primitive one string instrument possibly related to West African music that was brought over by slaves. The other CD of sacred music is from the churches – hymns rather than jazzed up gospel tunes with examples of shape-note singing. For each track, there are very comprehensive notes in a 200+ pages book that accompanies the CDs. The music itself is from regular folks in plain settings with background coughs and noise. Vocals are frequently incomprehensible due to thick accents. Priceless not because of its virtuosity, but because it is a record of traditions likely to be lost.

Anderson, Marisa – “Mercury” – [Mississippi Records]

Cousin Mary   5/29/2013   Blues, CD

Portland, Oregon based Marisa Anderson says she applies classical technique to her music. No matter, this is lovely stuff for solo guitar and lap steel (no vocals) that shows stunning virtuosity. Her renditions of her compositions bridge boundaries of folk, blues and country.

This album is said to recall experiences from her travels that began at age 19 and continued for 15 years.

Haunting, lush, beautiful.

Classic Harmonica Blues [coll] – [Smithsonian Folkways]

mickeyslim   5/22/2013   Blues, CD

As the title indicates, another release of old timey blues harmonica sounds from Smithsonian Folkways. With the likes of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Phil Wiggins, John Cephas, Eddie Burns and more, this collects a good number of the often glossed over harmonica players.

Recordings from ’52 to ’08; tracks like ‘Take Your Fingers Off It’ sound like they are clearly home recordings (that one recorded by prolific writer and blues historian, Sam Charters) due to a slightly lower sound quality, even though most of the tracks are recorded in and around the late ’80s and ’90s.

The one person I’d never heard of, Doctor Ross the Harmonica Boss, blew me away, in fact, the harmonica playing on the album is undeniably influential to any aspiring harp player. The solo acts where it’s just a man and his harmonica signing a blues track are particularly impressive (Bye Bye Bird!). Deep, extensive liner notes… learn yo’ self something.

Devil Is Busy In Knoxville, The [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

Thurston Hunger   4/26/2013   12-inch, Blues


Many things flow from the mighty Mississippi (label), and
here some 78’s wash up, cleaned up and darn near baptised.
Despite the title of the album (a presumed nod to Leola
Manning’s “The Devil Is Busy in Knoxville”) this is no
collection of murder ballads, but instead his grace and pearly
gates, where “Fify Miles of Elbow Room” await us. The
harmonies on here are downright heavenly. Not just frequent
angel-wing fliers like the Carter Family but the straight
collar sweet hollar of the Anglin Brothers and the Delmore
Brothers (connecting to Palace and Everly brothers in my
sacred heart and scarred ears). Of course the purest
chorus comes from the mouth of babes, and “Chariot Jubilee”
sounds like it could almost be a pacific island sublime
frequency call and response chat. Too short. If you want
a little hint of the apple polished by the serpent, check
out the rough and ready work of Elder Richard Bryant’s
Sanctified Singers, or the Silent Grove Baptist Church
Congregation (the shadowy bass accompaniment behind
the powerhouse unknown lead male vocal defying the Grave).
Is Rev I.B. Ware a real person, I reckon so but his sentiment
“I Wouldn’t Mind Dying” closes this album, which also
features the cover lady, the mighty Sister Rosetta Tharpe
belting out a tune from her thinner days, and holding a
note too high and pure for any devil to touch. Sing on
sister and brothers, sing on right on past the grave.

-Br’er ‘Unger

Rivers, Boyd – “You Can’t Make Me Doubt” – [Mississippi Records]

abacus   4/24/2013   12-inch, Blues

This gospel giant born Christmas day 1934 never seemed to get his voice heard much outside of the Mississippi area where he hailed from, though he did play a bit in France and Italy. Front porch country-blues stomp played clean with a hint of backwoods grit and some real raw twang. He pelts out these prayers with some big belly wailin’ and gap-tooth moans that really let out that spiritual energy rooted deep to the core. I hear they called him Reverend Boyd Rivers though who knows if he ever lead a sermon in his life. I did read that he sang in local churches around Madison County and had an ample supply of biblical anecdotes. Friendly and easygoing but also intense and passionate, he liked to hang out with his friends at JoJo’s gas station/convenience store on Highway 51, the main street of Pickens, MS, of which he lived 5 miles outside at the end of a two-mile long gravel road. I’m no religious man, but I would’ve liked to sit back and hear him preach. He died of a heart attack November 22 1993.

Time Will Make a Change [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

mickeyslim   4/17/2013   12-inch, Blues

Mississippi relases another selection of obscure and unknown gospel tunes, this time running in the blues vein. First side is more of gospelish R&B singing groups. There’s acool version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot that’s super slow. And a cool vesion of Amazing Grace by the whirlwinds, who twist up their own rockin’ version of this otherwise somber tune.

More solo acts on the flip side, including a killer, grity song by Ethel Prift called What time Is It? Also, a couple tracks by reverends and their congregation, the first of which sounds more Delta bluesish with the use of guitar. The second one is just clapping and call and response signing. Favorite is the last track, which is super lo fi, garagey blues, as another version of Swing Low, I call it a Punk sea shanty. Dig in…