Music Reviews

Hopkins, Lightnin’ – “Texas Blues Man” – [Arhoolie Records Inc.]

Cousin Mary   11/14/2012   12-inch, Blues

Ten outstanding tracks from Lightning Hopkins, none of which are already in the KFJC library. Hopkins’ sweet and thick as honey voice is in fine form, as is his excellent guitar work (track 2 shows this off a bit). Beautifully recorded by Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz in 1967 in Houston, Texas. Real blues (example: Slavery), not just the jokey stuff. Recommended!!!

Five Minutes to Midnight [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

humana   9/14/2012   10-inch, Blues

Here we have some gospel blues from the 1960s and 1970s , rather austerely sung against guitar backdrop, from the likes of Missionary Mamie Sample and The Sensational Six. Rev. R. Henderson’s voice is difficult to understand in his album closer, “Stop Living on Me.” How many people have you wanted to say that to? Give this a spin and commiserate.

Burnette, Ranie – “Ranie Burnette’s Hill Country Blues” – [Fat Possum Records]

Cousin Mary   8/7/2012   12-inch, Blues

Ranie Burnette (1913-2000) sings and plays guitar and is joined by Abe Young on harmonica on two tracks. Burnette was known in the Mississippi hill country and was a mentor to R.L. Burnside, but was not recorded until later in life. These quality recordings were made in the early 1980’s; I sort of expected them to be shorter and scratchier since the material sounds like what you might find on an old 78rpm disc. Burnette’s sweet voice and the strong rhythm of the tunes put this into the category of extraordinary. The Liner notes say that the rhythm was influenced by local fife and drum bands- very intriguing!

Last Time Around [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

mickeyslim   8/1/2012   12-inch, Blues

More blues from Mississippi Records! This is part three in a collection of gospel themed blues recorded from the 50’s to the 80’s (Life is a Problem, Oh Graveyard, You Can’t Hold Me Always). Raw-gritty field recordings, to playful piano bumps, there is surprisingly a lot of diversity on the album.

The A-side is all kind of upbeat, with the lyrics dealing with Heaven, the lord, salvation, etc. Then the B-side gets a little more dirty with a few songs just guitar and vocal work, reminds me of the old Delta bluesmen who would constantly switch from blues to gospel, gospel to blues, over and over again, so they retained the perfect mixture of the two. Make sure to?? check out “Fire in my Bones,” it’s exactly what I’m talking about. Drop the needle already..

Sticks Over My Shoulder [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

mickeyslim   7/11/2012   12-inch, Blues

“In Georgia it is said that a man who wants to learn to play guitar should take his box to the cemetery at night, sit on a grave and throw sticks over his shoulder”??Blues music a la music historian George Mitchell, who recorded blues musicians from Florida and Georgia from the 60’s to the late 80’s. The selection here is Georgian musicians recorded between ’76 and ’79. We got??John Ziegler & Rufus Jones, Jim Bunkley, Jimmy Lee Williams, James Davis, and William Robertson (aka Cecil Barfield!) on here, and all have a unique style.

Ziegler, left-handed, plays a right-handed guitar and Jones plays the spoons, which gives it a down home country folk blues, which sounds a lot like the original Delta blues style. Jim Bunkley’s tracks are very reminiscent of Son House’s style of slapping the shit out of his guitar and sliding up and down like a crazed demon or something, and his last track “The Howlin Wolf” is amazing. Jimmy Lee William plays guitar which is kind of groovy, and earthy, but contrasts his super gritty voice (a lot like the whole album, but his are even more unintelligible). He learned to play harmonica on a rack from his nephew, Buster Brown, who wrote “Fannie Mae.”

James Davis’ father and uncle used to be prominent drum musicians in the area who played house parties and church picnics, playing just a bass drum and a kettle drum. People in the area still refer to Davis’ music as drum music. He has a very electric sound though, like Kimbrough or Louisiana Red. William Robertson, better known as Cecil Barfield, began playing music at five years old when he used a string and a neck pulled across a cooking oil can, then finally budged and got a guitar at 12. Gritty voice and dirty filthy blues riffage.

Anderson, Marisa – “Golden Hour, The” – [Mississippi Records]

mickeyslim   6/26/2012   12-inch, Blues

Solo improvisations for the guitar and lap steel, with no overdubs of layering, this is Marisa Anderson of Portland, OR, home of Mississippi Records. Once in a funky-groovy jazz project called “Evolutionary Jass Band,” and recently featured on a remix album of “Music From Saharan Cellphones,” now comes her blues album that goes to show that this woman is a fucking musical beast, most likely chameleon-esque.

Whatever effects this chick uses makes for the perfect mix of creepy ambience and gritty ol’ Delta blues style. The lapsteel guitar is melancholy when there’s a foreboding resonance building from open notes on the guitar. Sometimes the songs are pretty (2,3,4,10) and have added crude feedback sounds (11!), while others have more of a direct blues influence, with a Junior Kimbrough-ish electric flavor (1,7,8,9), and one appropriately fingerpicked inspired by Blind Willie McTell (6).

Medatative and calm, without being boring. Uplifting, optimistic, foot-tappin’, tough-love from the distinct part of our selves where the blues go…

Gordon, Jimmie – “Vol. 1 1934-41” – [Story of Blues]

Cousin Mary   2/21/2012   Blues, CD

Gordon was a blues vocalist (probably born in 1906) who made these recordings from 1934 to 1941 with a variety of backing groups (see liner notes for particulars). Fine simply produced songs on usual blues topics such as money, booze, loving, cheating with some double entendre thrown in. Gordon’s warm direct singing style is said to have influenced many later blues singers. Track 4 stood out to me with its powerful lyrics “I work at the stockyard on the killing floor. Making 25 dollars and bringing you 24. I’m going to shoot you if you run, babe, and cut you if you stand. Then you’ll be through giving my money to your other man.”

I’m Going Where The Water Drinks Like Wine [coll] – [Sub Rosa]

Cousin Mary   10/1/2010   12-inch, Blues

Full title: I’m Going Where The Water Drinks Like Wine:18 Unsung Bluesmen 1923-1929

Very, very old and rare recordings from African-American men whose 78rpm recordings survived. Rough sound quality, but with poignant troubles and joy shining through. Interesting guitar and some fiddle and harmonica accompany the vocals.

Short biographies of each musician are on the back cover and help us understand this music. Words are not always intelligible.

Worth a listen, musical interest goes beyond the historical context.

Tyrannosaurus Rex – “a Beard of Stars” – [Blue Thumb Records]

humana   9/30/2010   12-inch, Blues

This was the last album by the British band recorded before the name change to T. Rex. Elements of folk rock permeate these songs penned by Marc Bolan. The lyrics are fanciful, and the guitar, organ, bass and percussive accompaniment are in keeping with them. Micky Finn is the ???bongo player,??? and this is his first outing as Steve Took???s replacement. It???s a page out of time. ???By the Light of a Magical Moon??? and ???Elemental Child??? are the standouts.

Angola Prisoners’ Blues [coll] – [doxy music]

Cousin Mary   9/30/2010   12-inch, Blues

Musicologist Harry Oster recorded these songs in the tool room of the Angola State Prison in Louisiana in 1959. Oster considered Robert “Guitar” Welch and Matthew “Hogman” Maxey as fine blues musicians, but felt that Robert Pete Williams was a true innovator. Oster had a part in Williams’ release from prison and his later work; he appeared at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and toured the US and Europe.

Oster’s liner notes are priceless, noting the influence of radio and TV that already affected the music of these prisoners. He analyzes each piece and points out the musical complexity coming from “unschooled” convicts.

This is the real deal, no jokey lyrics or novelty, but the genuine blues from the down and out. Watch out, this will break your heart.

If You Take Me Back – Document Shortcuts Vol. 2 [coll] – [Document]

Cousin Mary   8/3/2010   Blues, CD

Document Records is a British record label based in Newton Stewart, Scotland that specializes in pre-1945 American blues, bluegrass, gospel, spirituals and jazz. Document issued these Shortcuts samplers to let listeners get a taste of the music they feature.

Although the CD lands in the Blues library, there is a bit of gospel (track 7), swing (track 14), bluegrass(tracks 4 & 11), even a track from Senegal (track 10).

Absolutely top notch!

Wolf’s At The Door: Lost Recordings From The Spirits of The [coll] – [Sutro Park]

Cousin Mary   5/12/2010   12-inch, Blues

Bengt Olsson, from Sweden, made these recordings of older blues musicians in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The recording quality is good but the quality of the instrumentals and vocals can be rather rustic and simple, sometimes with voices in the background. Words are frequently hard to understand. Still worth a listen and affecting.

PGM – Side 2 has a 1-minute unlisted track 7 that is a crude story with language.

God Don’t Like It [coll] – [Document]

ArtCrimes   5/5/2010   Blues, CD

Document Records is on the path of putting *nearly every* American blues, old time, string band, jug band, hokum, and black gospel 78 record from the 20s thru the 50s back into print on their collections and single artist chronologies. They are now promoting their catalog with samplers, this being the first of them. There is no overarching theme here, as all the genres they deal with seem to be addressed. What’s nice is that they are featuring some pretty obscure acts here, even though they also have extensive back catalogs on better known artists. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Joe Williams, Son House, Roosevelt Sykes and the Memphis Jug Band are probably the best-known on this release, but Document has always relished more unsung artists — Three Stripped Gears, Hightower’s Night Hawks, and Hattie Ellis with Cowboy Jack Ramsey being just a few of the mysterious folks heard. The Document strategy is to offer up the basic details: who, what, where, when… and not fuss too much with remastering. We salute their ambition and hope they have more fiery sermons from Elder Johnson and weirdos like George Davis with his “Flesh Crawling Blues”. (( crimes ))

James, Elmore – “Final Sessions, The” – [Charly Music Ltd.]

Cousin Mary   4/5/2010   Blues, CD

These tracks were recorded in 1963, just a short time before the death of Elmore James, who was sometimes known as the “King of Slide Guitar”. James experimented with electronics to make his groundbreaking sound, and many musicians such as the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones considered him an inspiration and influence.

Excellent guitar and moving vocals, most backup musicians are unknown. Solid, meaningful blues.

PGM: Track 22’s interview contains language.

Lipscomb, Mance – “Best of Mance Lipscomb, The” – [Arhoolie Productions]

Cousin Mary   3/8/2010   Blues, CD

The Arhoolie record label owes its beginnings to a trip its founder took in 1960 (while a teacher at Los Gatos High School!) where he met and recorded Mance Lipscomb, resulting in Arhoolie’s first release. Lipscomb (pronounce LIP-scum) was a Texas sharecropper who called himself a “songster”, sometimes improvising lyrics, other times playing traditional favorites. Great guitar work, rich voice, this is the real thing.

I have heard that blues songs about the Titanic date back to when black boxer Jack Johnson could not board, due to racist policies of the time. When the ship sank, some felt it was the hand of an angry God.

Overstreet, Reverend Louis – “With His Sons and The Congregation of St. Luke’s…” – [Mississippi Records]

ArtCrimes   2/11/2010   12-inch, Blues

subtitled “His Guitar, His Sons And The Congregation Of St. Luke’s Powerhouse Church Of God In Christ”
This is a resequenced and revised version of a 1962 Arhoolie LP (adapting the original Arhoolie sleeve art) with the Rev. Louis Overstreet (1947-1980) and his sons at one of their “services” in Phoenix, AZ. This revised edition adds some recordings from a club date in Berkeley, 1963. A “service” for Overstreet is a wild, raucous blast furnace of sanctified primal gospel anchored by Overstreet’s Strat and his sons’ percussion, with vocals by all concerned. Chris Strachwiz (still running Arhoolie today) first heard Overstreet doing his gospel work out in the street in front of a bar in the South, and then arranged to record him some years later after tracking him down again in Phoenix. Along the lines of Reverend Charlie Jackson and other electric guitar wielding holy men already in KFJC’s library, Overstreet claimed to have been chosen by God to learn the guitar and preach the good news. The first and last tracks are lengthy and furious, throwing you into the wild communion already in progress; the shorter tracks are more orderly and self contained. (( crimes ))

Kimbrough, Junior – “First Recordings” – [Fat Possum Records]

Cousin Mary   1/26/2010   10-inch, Blues

Mississippi native Junior Kimbrough (1930-1998) released his first album when he was 62 in 1992, so any earlier recordings are precious in that context alone. In 1966 he made his first recording at American Studios in Memphis for Quinton Claunch, founder of Hi Records. (Rumor has it that Fat Possum plans to reissue much of this label???s output.)

Kimbrough succeeded in moving away from ???blues??? commonly heard in the 1960???s and getting back to his Mississippi roots, but he somehow did in a new way. This is spectacular stuff ??? Kimbrough???s intensity, voice, and guitar are in fine form and are very affecting. Emotional, stark, very beautiful.

Nelson, Red – “1935 – 1938” – [Document Records]

loun   1/25/2010   12-inch, Blues

A healthy helping of golden era Chicago blues from a less well known, though not necessarily less talented artist – “Dirty Red” Nelson Wilborn. The very laconic delivery, common for the era, can make it difficult to feel the deep pain punctuated by irrepressable spirit and double entendre, but it also makes the seeking worthwhile. Many of the tracks sound a bit scratchy, but in turn the sound of the original pressings (these are recovered from 78s) appears to be preserved at the best quality achievable. My favorite was “What a time I’m havin'”, which is also notable for being a protest song – WWII soldiers were promised a per-diem bonus that was long delayed before it was finally paid, but there’s lots of good stuff here. A notable document and solid collection of blues.

Boogie Woogie Kings [coll] – [Delmark]

Cousin Mary   1/6/2010   Blues, CD

Excellent sound quality and virtuoso boogie-woogie piano work on this Delmark release based on Euphonic Record masters. All tracks feature solo piano, some with mostly unintelligible vocals and shouts – track 9 features the glockenspiel-like tones of the celeste, track 10’s vocals are whistled. Lots of great walking bass – a text book example on track 12.

Notes: Albert Ammons is the father of sax great Gene Ammons. Meade Lux Lewis was an uncredited pianist in “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the bar where George Bailey gets thrown out.

Things About Comin’ My Way [coll] – [Black Hen Music]

ArtCrimes   11/25/2009   Blues, CD

The Mississippi Sheiks were a hugely popular Mississippi duo (with a couple of other floating members) playing a very stripped-down and aggressive style of country blues in the 1930s. Among their key songs are the still-played-today “Sittin’ on top of the World” (later versions cut by Cream, Doc Watson, and the Grateful Dead) and “World is Going Wrong” which Bob Dylan modified for an album title of one of his two collections of folk and blues cover tunes. As a tribute to their catalog, the Vancouver-based Black Hen label recorded new versions of Sheiks songs, some of them instrumentals, with an eye towards updating them rather than doing a strict recreation of their sound. The results range from the still plenty blues-oriented John Hammond and Kelly Joe Phelps, to Danny Barnes’ banjo pickin,’ to jazz inflected Bill Frisell and Madeleine Peyroux and the almost art song approach of Robin Holcomb. As is always the case with these collections, some of this may not float your boat but in general many of these performances capture the spirit of the Sheiks, if not their actual sound. ((crimes))

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