Monday, March 21, 2011

Blind Lemon Jefferson - Complete Recorded Works Vol 1 - Recorded Betwenn 1925 and 1926 - 1994.


90 performances by Blind Lemon Jefferson were reissued in chronological sequence as his "complete recorded works" by the Document label in 1994. The songs were parceled out neatly so that material from each successive year of his short recording career occupied a separate disc, with volume one containing 23 selections recorded between December 1925 and December 1926. Those who feel prepared to shed the shackles of convention and jettison preconceived notions of what the blues or music in general is supposed to sound like should seriously consider obtaining all four volumes, for listening to nearly every record known to have been made by Blind Lemon Jefferson can be a moving and transformationally rewarding experience. Born near the end of the 19th century in the village of Couchman, south of Dallas between Mexia and Corsicana in Freestone County, TX, he came up in a racially segregated environment where blindness lowered his already rock-bottom social status as a member of the African American underclass. The name Lemon, which is believed to have been bestowed upon him at birth, was a reference to the shape of his head. (A few years later, this playful aspect of the culture would cause saxophonist Coleman Hawkins to be dubbed "Bean" by his fellow musicians because they felt that his cranium resembled a haricot bean.) Legend has it that Lemon and the slightly younger Blind Willie Johnson, who grew up in Marlin a few miles southeast of Waco, would sometimes perform publicly on the streets of Marlin at the same time. This would have made for an intriguing if inadvertent near-rupturing of the socially constructed barrier between the sacred and the secular, for Willie sang nothing but spirituals and Lemon, who hung out with gamblers, hooch peddlers, pimps, and prostitutes, was and has since been solidly identified with the hedonistic genre of the blues. Lemon, however, cannot be so easily categorized, and the first record he ever cut was "I Want to Be Like Jesus in My Heart" b/w "All I Want Is That Pure Religion." Although historians usually pronounce these to be puzzling non-sequiturs, the obvious lesson is that Lemon sang exactly the songs that he felt he ought to sing, and that the profoundly spiritual component that exists in the heart and marrows of African-American culture continues to be underestimated and misunderstood by those who seek to evaluate the music from their own points of reference outside of that culture. As for the listening experience itself, bear in mind that these deliciously scratchy, acoustically recorded Paramount platters were meant to be experienced as single playbacks heard on a windup phonograph, not as nearly two dozen consecutive segments on a disc that takes about an hour to play through. What the CD compilation does accomplish, however, is to enable the listener to relax and surrender to what comes to resemble a sort of early 20th century African-American oratorio made up of beautifully honest reflections on what it's like to live in the world. Lemon's guitar and voice are utterly captivating, and an hour spent in his very special company can be positively magical. Those who yearn for "cleaner" audio should go directly to JSP's 94-track four-CD set, issued in 2003. And there's nothing wrong with consulting both sets so as to be able to compare differently remastered take

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