Music Reviews

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))

I Woke Up One Morning In May [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

ArtCrimes   8/4/2009   12-inch, Blues

Another mysterious vinyl release (limited to 1,000 copies) from Mississippi Records in Portland OR, who don’t actually care to put the name of their company on their releases (I wrote it on the cover myself), and don’t even have a website (all online info about their releases is compiled by third parties). This one is mostly country blues 78s from 1927-1934… not all of them are that uncommon, but there’s a few new additions here for KFJC’s blues holdings. Like some other Mississippi compilations, the mastering quality is very good, and the cover art is appealing, but the annotation is limited: you get artist names and track titles – anything beyond that requires some research (I’ve added year of release on the cover tracklist). Among the tracks we didn’t have at KFJC already, the Buster Johnson track features some rough sounding fiddle, Little Hat Jones’s track was used in “Ghost World”, Louie Lasky is pretty obscure but well regarded among guitar players, and Willie Baker is also very obscure, with a distinctive 12 string sound. >crimes

Chicago Blues Harmonica Project – More Rare Gems [coll] – [Severn Records]

Cousin Mary   6/8/2009   Blues, CD

This is the second album from the Chicago Blues Harmonica Project featuring 6 Chicago based harmonica players – each plays 2 tracks for a total of 12. It shows that ???blues harp??? is still alive and well in the Windy City. All tracks are backed up by the Chicago Bluesmasters. (piano/guitar/bass/drums).

All harmonica players sing and play well ??? lively tunes with fun lyrics. Not groundbreaking, but solid competent blues.

I Got Two Wings [coll] – [Casequarter]

Cousin Mary   5/26/2009   Blues, CD

This CD was produced to accompany I Got Two Wings, Lynn Abbots???s book on the electric guitar playing evangelist Rev. Utah Smith who was an important figure in the mostly black Pentecostal Church of God in Christ. He performed wearing wings and the CD includes a number of versions of the title song. The album also includes Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sister Sarah James and others associated with the COGIC. Tracks are from the 1920???s through 1950???s.

Very fine gospel shouting and singing, great guitar playing.

Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe – “1929-1934 Recordings In Chronological Order Vol. 2” – [Document Records]

Cousin Mary   3/6/2009   Blues, CD

Memphis Minnie (1897-1973) and Kansas Joe (married to each other at the time) were discovered on the streets of Memphis and had recently moved to Chicago for a recording contract in the early 1930???s when these tracks were made. Fine vocals and guitar from both on a variety of blues topics from being deathly ill with meningitis (???Memphis Minnie-Jitis Blues???) to a story about a horse (???Frankie Jean???). Plenty of sexual innuendo on ???Bumble Bee???, ???What???s the matter with the mill???? and many others.

Liner notes identify specific musicians for each track. Track 11 has whistling, 16 and 17 jug band and harmonica.

Specter, Dave – “Left Turn on Blue” – [Delmark]

domitype   1/19/2009   Blues, CD

A Big Guitar kinda blues, but with a heavy Jazz/ 40’s-50’s R&B influence from
this Chicago based electric guitarist/songwriter, Dave Specter and his
Bluebirds. There is a solid two horn section and a groovin HAMMOND B-3 from
veteran Brother Jack McDuff, along with vocals and harmonica work from Lynwood
Slim (a SoCal blues guy since the 70’s.) Really a good feel to this record. I like!

Dave Richoux

Riley, Dave and Bob Corritore – “Travelin’ The Dirt Road ” – [Blue Witch Records]

Cousin Mary   1/13/2009   Blues, CD

Downhome blues with Riley on guitar and vocals and
Corritone on harmonica. The duo and the label Blue Witch
Records are from Phoenix, Arizona. Both spent time in
the Chicago blues scene, Riley grew up in Mississippi.

Well played and good listening, but not breaking any new
ground. The possible exception is ???Overalls??? where
Riley tells us he shouldn???t wear overalls because he doesn???t
wear underdrawers ??? too much information blues?

Aladdin Records Story, The [coll] – [Emi]

Cousin Mary   1/12/2009   Blues, CD

Aladdin Records (aka Philo and Lamp) was founded in Hollywood by the Mesner brothers in 1946 and recorded some jazz, lots of R&B, and early rock ???n??? roll. This out-of-print 2-CD set hits the high points of their artists??? work. Upbeat, lots of innuendo, fun!

The earlier works are especially delightful ??? but a few of the later tracks are pretty typical bop-bop-she-bop stuff.

Language on Mother Fuyer, CD 1, track 6.