on February 8, 2009
I have been harping away lately on the various trends in the blues that started to appear in America as an indigenous music form in the early 20th century. However, as a good historical materialist it is worth noting (and incidentally adding another reason to use of this methodology) that, as the producers of this CD make clear that the roots of the roots go back some way, perhaps, even to the old country traditions (British Isles) of a few centuries ago. I take special note that in the 19th century there was basically one common `folk' music and that it only split into its black and white racial components later (and then, certainly not fully).
This argument is presented in greater depth in the always informative liner notes booklet that accompanies Yazoo productions and make virtually any purchase of their CDs worthwhile. I also note that the distinctive blues sound comes into its own once its sheds the old country fiddle and banjo and is replaced by guitar and piano as instrumentation. From personal experience my ear has always been more prone to pick up that mesmerizing guitar or piano-driven blues beat than the earlier reel, jig and breakdown sound. Thanks, blues forebears for that shift.
Several of the performers included in this CD compilation (one of three which I will ultimately review) I have mentioned previously in this space. Memphis Minnie is fresh and saucy on "Frisco Town", John Hurt rings out smoothly, as always, on his version of the John Henry saga, "Spike Driver's Blues". Furry Lewis is just fine on his part one of "Kassie Jones (you really need to get a CD that has the two parts together, by the way). Blind Boy Fuller gives "Thousand Woman Blues" a workout as does Blind Blake on "Champaign Charlie Is My Name". Barbecue Bob surprises with his "Black Skunk Blues". However, the "king of the hill" on this one is an incredible version of "Levee Camp Moan Blues" (a Son House specialty) by Texas Alexander. Wow.
The liner notes mention that record companies in the 1920's (when most of this stuff was recorded), catering to the new found commercial popularity of the blues sound, labeled anything and everything that was not nailed down otherwise as the blues. Clearly some of this material is not the blues in any recognizable musical sense and some other hit the sources right on the head (think Furry Lewis on that "Kassie Jones" track) but that is what makes looking for the roots of the roots interesting.