on July 9, 2001
Enough has been written about Gary Davis' unique guitar style, so it's time to do some serious listening, and this is the disc with which to do it.
It was recorded when Davis was about sixty years old, and at that moment he had as much power and imagination in his playing as he'd had as a younger musician, while at the same time having reached a level of control that only comes with decades of experience. His tempos are not as frantic as those on his 1930s sides, and his playing is even better. To boil it down: There is no better acoustic guitar playing to be heard in all of American music than you'll hear on this disc. It's always been a problem to capture the sheer "squeeze power" of a street performer like Davis, and this recording does so better than any of his others. And at exactly the right time in his life, for in all his later recordings except "Harlem Street Singer" - magnificent as they may be - his age shows to a lesser or greater degree.
Track one, "Pure Religion," encapsulates all the high points of Davis the musical preacher, and should be played as loud as possible for maximum impact. The very next one, "Mountain Jack Blues," is a perfect example of Davis the bedrock bluesman: like a jazz player, he uses the form to explore melodic line and feeling, letting the guitar do all the singing. The rest of the album alternates more or less in that fashion: dynamite blues or ragtime numbers interspersed with deeply emotional religious songs. For the most part Davis' vocals here are less intense than those heard on "Harlem Street Singer," but his guitar playing takes up that burden.
Stunning unamplified-guitar pyrotechnics? You've never heard anything to equal these versions of "Hesitation Blues" (truly proto-jazz) or "Twelve Sticks" which here is titled "I Didn't Want to Join the Band." Gentle old-time picking? There's beauty and poetry to spare in "Cocaine [Coco] Blues" - but don't get in between Davis' right thumb and those strings, for there are truly differing degrees of gentle!
And to make it all the sweeter, the disc contains a handful of tunes ("Seven Sisters," "My Heart is Fixed," "Right Now") that are not found on any other Davis album, and the CD issue includes two tracks left off the original LP, which at that was one of the longer LPs to be released in the folk-vinyl days.
One small, minor complaint: The recording overall shows a much higher level of hiss than was present on the long-unavailable British and American LP issues, suggesting some deterioration of the master tapes. The sound suffers a bit as to crispness. ("Cocaine Blues" sounds as if it's transferred from an LP copy.)
But that this recording is available at all is cause enough for joy, for it truly doesn't get better than this. I know it's a cliche, but it's true: If you're a guitarist, or a fan of American folk music, you owe it to yourself to hear this disc.
on November 7, 1999
This is one of the classic albums. Rev Davis plays blues/ragtime picking acoustic guitar. If you don't know him yet then this is a good example of his excellent work. Personal, individual and heartfelt like the best country blues but very free with his guitar arrangements. Proper.
on August 28, 2009
it is only too bad that Rev. Gary Davis is no longer with us and that we do not have enough recordings of him. This is a fantastic collection of songs and his guitar work at times is pure genius. The perfect way to enjoy this album is to sit back, close your eyes and imagine listening to it on a street corner, which he is known for. His vocals can sometimes be rough, but he sings from the soul, and his playing styles will simply amaze you. Highly recommended.
on July 14, 2007
I think the vocal version of "Cocaine Blues" belongs to another label. Rock fans may know the song by George Thorogood, by the way. Fantastic accoustic guitar work. Also check out Blind Willie McTell, Lonnie Johnson, and of course Robert Johnson and Robert Lockwood, Jr. for accoustic country blues mastery.
on February 26, 2002
Though this has some great guitar picking on it, the version of "Cocaine Blues" on this CD is an INSTRUMENTAL!! The song, when it is SUNG, has some of the best anti-drug lyrics ever. Whoever put this compilation together decided not to put a disclaimer on the CD that this is an instrumental version.
The label is Smithsonian Folkways, Buyer Beware!