Monday, March 21, 2011

V.A. - Giants Of Country Blues Guitar , Vols 1, 2 and 3.


Giants of Country Blues Guitar, Vol. 1 is a curious and fascinating collection of field recordings of Mississippi country blues guitarists done between 1967 and 1991, most of the selections recorded in the musicians' homes, which means there is a good deal of incidental background noise, including people talking and laughing, dogs barking, and a whole lot of foot stomping. All of this adds a certain degree of intimacy to the performances, which range from excellent to incredibly shaky. Jessie Mae Hemphill, Sam Chatmon, and Jack Owens fare the best, while the lone track by Son House, "Baby Please Don't Dog Me 'Round," is a horrible recording, with more distorted foot stomp than guitar (although it is still a fascinating track, in spite of it all). Furry Lewis does "Going to Brownsville" here on electric guitar, which is interesting, since he was normally recorded in an acoustic setting. Also worth noting is a single cut by Mager Johnson, Tommy Johnson's brother, who does "Traveling Blues" on electric guitar. Not always a smooth listen, Giants of Country Blues Guitar, Vol. 1 has probably more archival and historical value than anything else, but the sheer intimacy of some of these recordings gives it a very special grace.


Although the recording dates on Giants of Country Blues Guitar, Vol. 2 are quite modern, covering 1975-1991, the direct connections go back to the mid-century, Joe Willie Wilkins having played guitar for Sonny Boy Williamson II (i.e., Rice Miller) on his Trumpet sides. Actually, the players here, of whom the best known is R.L. Burnside, are practically a living museum of the rural blues styles on display. James "Son" Thomas' six songs represent the unvarnished authentic Delta blues style, while Cornelius Bright's track displays the "Bentonian" style embodied by Skip James. Burnside's performance of "Rollin' and Tumblin'," which would make Muddy Waters' Chess Records version seem almost slick, is worth the price of admission, but even he seems mannered and commercial next to some of what's here. Some of the rest -- especially Bright's and Jimmy Holmes' "Devil's Blues" -- sound like it came out of a time machine.


Drawn from field recordings done by Andrea and Hannes Folterbauer in the Deep South in 1991 (one track is from 1981), Giants of Country Blues, Vol. 3 concentrates mostly on a trio of North Mississippi country blues players, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Ranie Burnette, and Junior Kimbrough (Jacob Stuckey is from Bentonia, MS and L.V. Conerly is from LA), whose rough, modal juke style has become well known in the blues community thanks to the various Fat Possum releases. The chief attraction of the tracks collected here is the complete lack of slickness they demonstrate, giving these traditional blues pieces the kind of immediacy and freshness that is too often lacking in what passes for blues on the contemporary commercial circuit. These are artists whose music is still in service to their local communities, providing entertainment at house parties and juke joints. Highlights include Hemphill's "Train, Train," Roosevelt Holts' update of Tommy Johnson's classic "Big Road Blues," Kimbrough's signature "All Night Long," and Tommy West's shaky but affecting version of "Catfish Blues."

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