Music Reviews

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…

Profit, Ethel – “Ethel Profit” – [Mississippi Records]

surferrosa   4/17/2013   7-inch, Blues

Ethel Profit is a woman with a voice to make your heart bleed. Her smokey voice is accompanied by the blusiest of solo blues guitar.. teetering on the fringe of gospel with the tracks Death is Not the End and Life is a Battle, both uplifting and somehow melancholic…lonesome. The nature of this old recording gives it a natural sort of overdrive, you can hear the sound peaking and crackling when Ethel really starts to wail…and does she ever. Simple and soulful, dug up from the depths of Mississippi Records’ unbelievable sonic archives. -Surfer Rosa

Hemphill, Sid – “Devil’s Dream, The” – [Mississippi Records]

surferrosa   4/16/2013   12-inch, Blues

These are archival recordings collected by Alan Lomax, ethnomusicologist and folklorist, of Sid Hemphill (1876-1961) out of Sledge Mississippi, recorded August 1942…Sid Hemphill called his work ‘old folks music’ and handmade many of his band’s instruments. These recordings are full of crackly old folk songs and instrumentals, most certainly with that post-war, whiskey sippin’, jams and ditties on the front porch on a hot day sort of sound. Outstanding fiddle-fodder makes for a square dance kind of feel on a lot of these tracks.. banjo twang to make your toes tap.. Some feature the ‘quil’ a hand cut cane panpipe, which you can find on many of the short instrumentals paired with a snare drum, which echoes of a civil war drum-line march. Vocals are soulful, and gritty, wailing about hunting or the devil himself. All this underlined with the wonderful pops, cracks and hisses of a recording made long long ago. -Surfer Rosa

a Short Life of Trouble [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

mickeyslim   3/19/2013   12-inch, Blues

At it again, Mississippi Records releases a collection of gems from big names like The Carter Family and Woody Guthrie, to the obscure Shortbuckle Roark or Buell Kazee. Ol’ time folk tracks recorded between ’27 and ’43, dealing with murder and lost loves. Slide guitar, banjoes, fiddles, harmonies, and no percussion of any kind on the whole album. Most of the tracks are traditional ballads, and have no real author, much like “John Henry.”

“Pretty Polly” is a banjo murder balled. “Why I’m Grieving” is a yodeling sister duo, and there’s a bitchin’ version of “Man of Constant Sorrow” on the B-side. Mississippi John Hurt’s “Louise Collins” is about the murder of a girl, originally about a male victim. Rare recording of solo Jimmie Tarlton who almost exclusively recorded with a guy named Tom Darby. A couple Delta bluesy song find their way in there, too. Check it out, drop that needle like its hot…

Georgia Sea Island Singers – “Join The Band” – [Mississippi Records]

MSTiZA   1/9/2013   12-inch, Blues

The Georgia Sea Island Singers were a folk ensemble that formed in the early 1900s. They traveled performing songs. They are descendants of slaves who identify as Gullah. ??The members have changed over the years. There have been a handful of recordings. And the lineup has included Bessie Jones, Joe Armstrong, Mable Hillery, and Frankie SUllivan Quimby. This release was recorded by Alan Lomax in St. Simons Island, Georgia in Oct. ’59. Additional recording took place in April ’60 in Williamsburg Virginia. Alan Lomax was a musicologist, wtriter and producer who spent most of his life in the pursuit of archiving American folk musicians throughout the mid-south west and it’s nearing territories. his is a collaboration between Alan Lomax Archive and Mississippi Records. It’s is a beautiful testimony to the heritage that the Gullah kept alive.

Thomas, Henry – “Bull Doze Blues” – [Mississippi Records]

Max Level   12/4/2012   12-inch, Blues

A totally charming blues album. Thomas, a Texas native who hoboed and railroaded his way all around the country, recorded these tracks way back in the 1920’s. Every song is upbeat and almost jaunty, influenced by the ragtime music popular at that time. Thomas accompanies himself on guitar and one of the most distinctive blues sounds I’ve heard–he plays the quills, a home made panpipe type instrument with its origins in American slavery. He plays it the way another blues singer might play mouthharp and it makes me smile every time he whips it out. His songs especially caught on with west coast blues revivalists of the 1960’s-70s such as Canned Heat, Taj Mahal, and Hot Tuna, who either covered his songs or “borrowed” them to write their own songs. I’m not exactly a blues aficionado–give me Albert King and Big Mama Thornton and I’m happy–but I could not stop playing this once it got its hooks in me.

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.

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