Led Zeppelin – Destroyer (1977)

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Led Zeppelin
“Destroyer”
April 2, 1977. Cleveland, Ohio

Yesterday (June 28) marked nineteen years since my brother was killed. I spent most of the evening listening to music to that reminds me him, which included some of the mighty Zeppelin. But I neither need to nor will make any excuses for digging the Led Zeppelin and it was not a nostalgia trip. Although certain hipsters and revisionist neo-punks still maintain they are too cool for Zeppelin, most people who actually like rock and roll will acknowledge the band’s place as one of the best in the genre. This was one of the first Zeppelin boots to come to my attention and has been issued a whole mess of times by different labels. By most reckonings the best versions are the ones released by the label Empress Valley, a version not attributed to any label in 2007, and this one released on the Eelgrass label in 2008 which is apparently just a slightly-louded version of the label-less pressing. The sound quality is pretty stunning, coming straight from the mixing console onto quality analog tape.

The 1977 tour was the first time the band had done a full tour of the US since 1973, due mostly to Robert Plant having a nasty car accident in 1975 that put him out of commission for quite a while and reportedly had him singing from a wheelchair during the recording of the “Presence” album. One of the treats of their return was the inclusion of a set of acoustic-based songs which rarely if ever made it to the stage previously. In fact I would probably rave about this boot just because it has “Ten Years Gone,” one of my absolute favorite songs by these guys. Jimmy Page’s genius in the recording studio – as well as his good taste in stealing material by both American and English folk and blues musicians – has always been one of the things that kept me coming back to this band, as was John Paul Jones modest virtuosity as a “musician’s musician” who seemed capable of playing any instrument that landed in his hands. So this necessarily-stripped-down live reading of the tune lacks some of the force of the studio track on Physical Graffiti. But, really only *some* of the force – the tune holds up live remarkably well and keeps the vibe strong. The Tolkien-riddled “Battle of Evermore” fares less successfully in no small part because the inimitable Sandy Denny isn’t there to sing harmonies.

The mighty Led Zeppelin had plenty of VIBE, and (in case you were wondering) that is why they actually belong here amongst all the other stuff on this blog. When they were having a good night on stage, it must have been a tremendous collective experience (enough to even impress William Burroughs, who attended one show and wrote about it in such terms). Since the band was famously unhappy with their only official live-performance document The Song Remains the Same (exhausted end-of-tour sloppy performance and extremely drug-addled musicians…), many folks have speculated that the band would have been better served by a release taken from a few nights of this tour, including this show. In fact the band’s reputation as a live act was really only finally set straight by the double DVD released in 2003 that testified to them being more than an over-hyped “arena rock” phenom.

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My brother and I had less and less in common musically as we grew older, but we always had a bond in the Led Zeppelin. He went off and became a fan of “hair metal” — while idiosyncratically becoming the drummer for a thrash-metal band, which by definition are very much anti-hair-metal. He used to give me lots of shit, like older brothers usually do generally speaking, about my increasingly eclectic musical tastes during our adolescence. Whether it was catching me playing air-guitar to Purple Rain, or shaking his head in dismay as I zoned out in my incense-filled room blasting the 13th Floor Elevators or Moby Grape (“it smells like a Persian whorehouse in here…”), there was no doubt that we were becoming very different people. I had my vindication when I caught him playing my copy of “Sign o’ The Times” and he finally had to admit that Prince was pretty fucking cool. Like most siblings we probably couldn’t see (or, at least, I didn’t at the time) how much we were cut from the same cloth. I was probably about seven years old when he started collecting the Zeppelin albums — on vinyl through the Columbia Record Club via mail-order, baby!! So, if I felt like it, I could blame him for the years of reckless mixtures of drugs, sex, and the occult that inevitably “resulted” from my exposure to such Devil Music at an early age. But that would be silly; all that stuff was my own doing. One of my more pleasant memories, if a bit foggy, of the last year or so we had together, was the two of us (well, with his girlfriend in the passenger seat, unfortunately) driving on a road-trip to New York City in his pimped-out 1976 Trans Am. By pimped-out I mean that he had put in a decent sound system with a hefty amplifier and EQ, as well as a radar detector to elude the cops while speeding on the highways. I remember fondly the long ride up Interstate 75 blasting The Who and Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti” (one of the best all-time road-trip records.). Unfortunately I also remember with shame when he caught me buying opium from some schmuck in Greenwich Village. It turned out to be fake, bunk opium too, and so doubly not worthy of the embarrassment of getting caught. My brother worried about me a lot, and most likely saved my life in an incident where he took it upon himself to knock on some doors and put on his best metal-head menace to eke out information from my so-called hippie “friends” about where I might have disappeared to when I went missing for a few months when I was 15. I had actually told nobody but rumors travel fast in small towns, and he valiantly crossed state lines with his slightly-crazy bandmate who always carried a knife in his boot in his general preparedness for the apocalypse and had taken to calling himself Akhnaton after the Egyptian pharaoh. They tracked me down to a national forest before I was able to hitchhike across the country and meet my uncertain fate as a full-fledged drop out. I didn’t exactly pull myself together after that either. Less than a year later he was visiting me in the psych ward where I had been committed (half-voluntarily, half-coerced/forced there). He was the only visitor I had while I was there. It was less than two months after I got out of that place that he was killed in a car accident at around 3 am coming back home from a show with his metal band. I was the last person in my family to see him alive. Almost naturally, I thought it should have been me in that car, that there was some sort of mix-up. Not just guilt but also envy — the bastard got out of the game, and left me behind.

Although this show, in an incomplete version had circulated as a vinyl boot for quite some time before he died (on the famous Swingin’ Pig label), I do not know if he ever heard it or not. My guess would be he probably had not. So I like to imagine sometimes that I am playing it for him for the first time. It’s weird how when someone slips away from us, they become frozen in time – I will always think of him as 21 years old. In my dreams when he pays me a visit, that is usually his age. I’ve even had the odd science-fiction and conspiracy dreams where he returns to us, and we learn that his death was faked, a hoax. But he is still twenty-one years old, a fact that well all find rather peculiar but are afraid to comment on. Then it somehow becomes clear that this is not in fact my brother, but a clone or an android made from some recorded memory deposited in the Overmind, and that THIS is the hoax, and the dream fades, and I wake up.

So, wherever the hell you are, I’d like dedicate this post to you, with love, and hope you play it loud, commemorating Kali the Destroyer and the beauty of rock music in all its sublime hedonism, rough-hewn poetry, and eternal youth.

1. “The Song Remains The Same” (partial) – (3:40)
2. “The Rover”(Intro)/”Sick Again” – (6:44)
3. “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” – (6:29)
4. “In My Time of Dying/’You Shook Me” – (11:38)
5. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” – (8:23)
6. “No Quarter” – (19:46)
7. “Ten Years Gone” – (9:14)
8. “The Battle of Evermore” – (6:22)
9. “Going to California” – (5:48)
10. “Black Country Woman”
11. “Bron-Yr-Aur (Stomp)” – (5:11)
12. “White Summer”/”Black Mountain Side”
13. “Kashmir” – (8:32)
14. “Out on the Tiles”/”Over the Top”/”Moby Dick”
15. Guitar Solo – (9:45)
16. “Achilles Last Stand” – (9:40)
17. “Stairway to Heaven” – (10:10)
18. “Rock and Roll” – (3:26)
19. “Trampled Under Foot”

Led Zeppelin – Destroyer (1977) in 320 kbs em pee treeee
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Led Zeppelin – Destroyer (1977) in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO

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Nina Simone – Nina Simone Sings the Blues (1967) Japanese K2 remastering

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As a rule I avoid weddings and funerals. They both represent transitional stages for which I’m not ready, and – if I had my way – would put off indefinitely. However I’ve often sat around thinking about what music I would like to have playing at both of them, should I be so unfortunate as to have them occur. In particular, *who* would play, since of course it would need to be live music. Having ruled out Madonna and Roberto Carlos as outside of my budget, I content myself with fantasies of being serenaded from beyond the grave. Disembodied spirits are relatively inexpensive. Sure, obtaining the necessary components for the blood sacrifice to get them to show up on time can be a lot of work, but think of all the money you will save on lodging and air transportation. Having established at least this much, I can move on to selecting which resident of the afterlife will perform at my wedding/funeral. Now is when it gets really tricky, because a lot depends on who I am marrying and/or the manner of my demise. Isaac Hayes, for example, would seem an ideal choice but I’m not sure I could live up to the turned-on expectations he would no doubt incur in my bride. She might even run off with him, across the great divide. And Black Moses singing at my funeral would be just, well, kind of weird. Then there are the artists whose palettes are truly universal. John Coltrane would work perfectly at either of these life ceremonies, for example. The list of these candidates is few in number, but among them is definitely my High Priestess, Nina Simone.

Nina could change from Broadway show tunes, to gospel, to blues, to soul and funk without making a big deal about it, without a lot of stylistic pomp to say “hey, look at me, I am going to sing some blues for you now.” Everything she did was done with conviction. It didn’t surprise me to learn recently that Nina suffered from some variety of bipolar disorder, what used to be called manic-depression. The electrically-charged highs and lows of her emotional range and vocal register were one and the same. Whether or not she is coyly telling you how fun it is to be kissed in the dark, or asking for more sugar in her bowl, you know better than to second-guess her sincerity. Whether she is singing Gershwin, or a twelve-bar blues arrangement, or the scandalously secular gospel-cry of “Real Real,” she is never anything less than completely present, in the moment, at the piano, on the microphone, transforming a studio into a dimly-lit smoke-hazed jazz club or a back-country house party. The empress between the pillars of light and dark, her suffering is also her wisdom, and you should thank the universe for being lucky enough to have HEARD her in your short lifetime.

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This album was the first long-player for Nina’s tenure with RCA/Victor after leaving the Philips label. If the studio staff had anything to do with assembling the backing band for this one –and I believe they did, as Rudy Stevenson is the only musician here that had been regularly playing with her, if I’m not mistaken — well, then they deserve some mighty thanks. Bernard Purdie. Bernard Purdie! Bernard PURDIE!! The man. ‘Pretty’ Purdie once again shows his ability to play to the song, hanging back in the mix. And one of my favorite under-rated guitarists, Eric Gale, was also on the sessions. There is also a collaboration with Langston Hughes on the socially-topical “Backlash Blues.”

This record isn’t exactly obscure, but if you are thinking, ‘Meh, I’ve already heard this one,” then think again. This is a Japanese pressing made using the proprietary K2 technology developed by JVC to avoid digital artifacts in the analog conversion and reduce jitter — meticulous care is taken at every step of the mastering and duplication process, held to very exacting standards. If all that doesn’t mean anything to you, just know this: the Japanese are obsessively and famously crazy about good audiophile-quality CD pressings, and have by and large not succumbed to the “loudness wars” that have plagued CD remasters in ‘The Occident’ wherein all dynamics are made ruler-flat so that everything will sound “good” (read: the same) on your Mp3 player or in your car. I’ve heard several CDs of this material and this one is by far the most sonically stunning.

There are few things quite as annoying to me than having the same music endlessly repackaged. This goes for many of the “new” high-definition formats being shoved down consumer’s throats lately (with little knowledge at the consumption end about the realities of any actual differences), but in fact it is part of a game the music business has played for at least a half century: how to milk the most revenue out of the same piece of recorded music. In the 1990s this took the form of CD reissues that threw together a bunch of material by an artist to give you the impression that you were getting something you didn’t already have, perhaps something previously unreleased. Such was the case with a European RCA/Novus collection of Nina Simone called simply “The Blues,” which has all the tracks on “Sings The Blues” with an additional seven songs. If I had been paying closer attention when I bought it impulsively, I might have been more wary of the fact that the first half was even in the same running order as “Sings The Blues,” but I was hell-bent on getting my hands on some kind of rarities, unreleased outtakes or live recordings or some such. In fact, the CD is just a repackaging of this album with some extra material thrown in. (To be fair, perhaps the original “Sings The Blues” was not available on CD at that time, but the packaging is ambiguous to put it mildly, and this title should probably have been deleted after proper reissues saw the light of day..) There is also a recent 2006 remaster that includes two bonus tracks. As a favor (if not quite a guide) to the perplexed, I am going to compile this material into another separate post, but for now let’s just enjoy Nina Simone Sings The Blues as it was meant to be enjoyed. The booklet for the 2006 pressing, which contains both original and new liner notes, is included just for kicks here.

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1. “Do I Move You” (Simone) – 2:46
2. “Day and Night” (Stevenson) – 2:35
3. “In the Dark” (Green) – 2:57
4. “Real Real” (Simone) – 2:21
5. “My Man’s Gone Now” (Gershwin, Heyward) – 4:16
6. “Backlash Blues” (Hughes, Simone) – 2:31
7. “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl” (Simone) – 2:32
8. “Buck” (Stroud) – 1:52
9. “Since I Fell for You” (Johnson) – 2:52
10. “The House of the Rising Sun” (Traditional) – 3:53
11. “Blues for Mama” (Lincoln, Simone) – 4:00

* Nina Simone: vocal, piano
* Eric Gale: guitar
* Rudy Stevenson: guitar
* Ernie Hayes: organ
* Bob Bushnell: bass
* Bernard Purdie: drums, timpani
* Buddy Lucas: harmonica, tenor sax

Elizabeth Cotten – Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes (1958)

This album from 1958 had a profound influence on a great many people involved with the “folk revival” in the United States during the 1960s. Elizabeth Cotten played finger-style guitar and banjo that brings to mind her much better-known contemporary, Mississippi John Hurt, rooted in cross-picking patterns related to ragtime. Cotten, like Hurt, had basically quit playing for decades before being “rediscovered” and encouraged to take up her instrument as a full-time musician. Her influence is heard in early Bob Dylan, in Taj Mahal, in some of Jerry Garcia’s more interesting work, and especially in John Fahey. Her recording of the tune “Vastopol” (a corrupted spelling of “vestapol”, the name for an open-D or open-E tuning often used in blues) could have been played by Fahey, who did in fact record the same tune. Cotten was an amazing guitarist and a bad-ass banjo picker, although her voice was less immediately likeable than, say, the soothing timbre of John Hurt. But her voice`s imperfections are also its charm.

I first heard of Elizabeth Cotton when I was sitting around strumming somebody else’s acoustic guitar after a soundcheck, playing John Hurt’s song “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor”. I had learned that tune off a record I bought in a store in Kentucky that was closing out its vinyl cellar (an album I will most likely share here very soon). Somebody in the room asked what song it was and a minor debate ensued. On telling them it was a Mississippi John Hurt song, the owner of the guitar insisted it was an Elizabeth Cotton tune, “Freight Train.” Now, Freight Train is about as close to a “hit” song as any finger-style acoustic music could get, but at that point in my youth I was not familiar with it. And now it is obvious to me that, although it has some significant variations mostly in the rhythm, John Hurt basically stole his tune from her. It’s not big deal, since Cotten’s is still the more famous of the two songs. But Cotten herself is less known than Hurt. Why is that?

While not discounting the fact that Hurt left much more of a recorded legacy, the fact of Cotton’s gender is an obviously important factor. Notable exceptions like Memphis Minnie and Sister Rosetta Tharpe notwithstanding, the blues has always been a masculine (and often machista or misogynicstic) music genre. In any popular music women tend to be valorized for aesthetic beauty in terms of an agreeable or powerful voice and countenance and not for their instrumental prowess, even when they possess both all of these.

The scenario of Cotten’s discovery speaks volumes about the dynamics of race and sexuality in the music business, in the folk revival, and in US society at the mid-2oth century. She taught herself guitar by borrowing her brother’s instrument on the sly until she was able to manage to get her own. She only performed with her siblings in private settings for the first part of her life. She made her living working as a maid, housekeeper, and domestic servant, and was working in that capacity for none other than the Seeger family when she randomly picked up a guitar one day and began singing old songs to a young Peggy Seeger. Thus began her “rediscovery” and, essentially, patronage by Pete and Mike Seeger and the Folkways label who released her two studio albums in the late 50s and early 60s. In the final decades of her life she was able to make her living full-time as a musician, bought a house, and received accolades and awards for her cultural contributions. But she played her music to an audience composed mostly of white, educated young people who were as culturally removed from her own life experience as you could get. This is not to minimize the accomplishments of the civil rights alliances that crossed class and racial boundaries, nor the opportunities Cotton eventually had to live a reasonably comfortable life as a musician. But the question that nags at me is – How many other Elizabeth Cotten’s were out there, women who played and sang enchanting music but put it aside for pursuits “proper” to the fairer sex, who were never in the lucky position of being “discovered” by important cultural aristocrats like the Seeger’s? It’s an unanswerable question. Recording opportunities in her day required capital, technology, recognition. Thank the gods for music scholars and researchers like Seeger, Alan Lomax, and others who combed the United States hoping to document what they saw as “vanishing” traditions. But they could never capture it all, and our collective musical memories still largely depend on the contingencies of chance and positionality.

Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes
Originally released in 1958
CD reissue, Smithsonian / Folkways (SF 40009)

1. Wilson rag 1:40
2. Freight train 2:46
3. Going down the road feeling bad 2:12
4. I don’t love nobody 1:14
5. Ain’t got no honey baby now 0:57
6. Graduation march 2:32
7. Honey baby your papa cares for you 2:15
8. Vastopol 2:10
9. Here old rattler here / Sent for my fiddle sent for my bow (Sent for my fiddle sent for my son) / Georgia Buck 3:48
10. Run…run / Mama your son done gone 2:18
11. Sweet bye and bye / What a friend we have in Jesus 3:02
12. Oh babe it ain’t no lie 4:43
13. Spanish Flang Dang 2:51
14. When I get home 2:22


Elizabeth Cotten – Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes (1958) in 320 kbs em pee three

Elizabeth Cotten – Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes (1958)in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO format

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Syl Johnson – Is It Because I'm Black, 1969-1971 (2006) 320kbs

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Syl Johnson – Is It Because I’m Black, 1969-1971 (2006) 320kbs
Featuring the Hi Records crew and arrangements by Donny Hathaway

So, I *believe* that the first 8 tracks of this CD make up what is a stone-soul classic of an album, a lost classic of Chicago soul at that. It really is nothing short of amazing, so forget about Richie Uberbooger’s characterization of “minor soul singer” Syl. Originally released in 1970, this album is long overdue for a deeper critical assessment. It should have made Syl Johnson into a household name. Unfortunately this reissue, put out by the Twilight Label (which, I think, is Syl Johnson’s own) presents the music well enough, but falls short of doing it justice. The “liner notes” tell us nothing about this landmark album, such as who plays on it or where it was recorded. For some odd reason the songs ‘Kiss By Kiss’ and ‘Get Ready’ sound like they were sourced from Mp3s Syl found on the internets (not here, I promise!), or was just mangled by Sonic Solutions No-Noise for No-Good reason, but are sandwiched between ‘Black Balloons’ and ‘Talk bout Freedom’ which sound great. No idea what is going on here but probably somebody dropped a roach on party of the master reels or something along those lines. The CD also contains No Info whatsoever on the TEN (that’s right, TEN) extra tracks appended to the album, which seem to have been recorded at various times and restored from even less-than-stellar sources that the two mentioned above, probably at least a few from worn-out cassettes. The song “Ms. Fine Brown Frame” appears to be the song from an album in 1982, although there is no info here to prove it… What we DO get in the insert is a rambling account of how Johnson has been cheated out of his royalties much like his grandfather was cheated out of his land. Which is all good and well and no doubt true, but he could have had somebody proofread the thing first — It’s poorly written and filled with misspellings and typos. In fact its kind of a disgrace, detracting from the seriousness and high quality of writing of the title song, which has been covered by more people than I can shake my stick at. As much as I’d like to give him my money rather than some label that’s ripping him off, this is a sub-par package for what deserves a memorial edition release.

From what I can tell, Willie Mitchell and the gang at Hi Records had a huge hand in the original album. There are no specific credits besides what is listed in the image below. Songs from his first album (“Dresses Too Short”) are also thrown on here.. All in all, this CD should have been a celebration, instead it’s a mess. In fact, the liner notes almost make me think that old Syl (at 70 years now) may be a bit drug-addled or absent-minded and in need of some cash, because the whole thing is a pretty shoddy product. I’m glad I picked it up, because the music is incredible when the audio fidelity lets it shine through, but I’ll continue my search for the original LP or the old Charly pressing, which usually have pretty amazing mastering in spite of their no-frills presentation.

Review by Richie Unterberger

Johnson’s first album (Dresses Too Short) was fairly innocuous good-time soul, but he’d obviously been doing some thinking about the world around him in the interim between it and his second release. Is It Because I’m Black is characterized by socially conscious songwriting, especially in the seven-and-a-half-minute title track, an elongated, serious statement of black pride with a sad funk-blues groove. It wouldn’t be fair to call Johnson a bandwagon jumper; this was before Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On had made realistic ghetto songs chic, and it was a fairly gutsy move for a minor soul singer such as Syl to put such material to the forefront. While nothing else here matches that lost mini-classic, there are some good cuts along similar lines in which Johnson pleads for tolerance and justice, including covers of jazzman Oscar Brown’s “Black Balloons,” and Joe South’s “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” and, less successfully, the Beatles’ “Come Together.” The album was reissued in conjunction with 1968’s Dresses Too Short on a single disc by Kent in 1997.
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Mississippi Fred McDowell – Live at the Gaslight (2000) VBR

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Fred McDowell was a one-man blues orchestra. Although sometimes playing in a trio setting, the recordings most considered ~classic~ consist of just him on voice and guitar, sometimes electric, sometimes acoustic. Like most, if not all, of his contemporaries in southern blues from the same era, he would cover all the bases with finesse and dexterity, supplying syncopated rhythms, counterpoint, and melody that can easily make you forget you are only listening to one person. Also like these contemporaries, McDowell was as comfortable playing uptempo as he was playing slow and mournful. He had what music critic Robert Palmer called ~deep blues~, and he had it in spades. There is an isomorphic unity to voice, word, and instrument here that has given me some insight as to why blues – really good blues, anyway – lifts my spirits when I feel I’ve reached my threshold for loneliness, regret, saudades.

Open tunings and bottleneck slide are also not exactly a novelty in southern blues, but McDowell stands out from his peers on this point for many reasons. His playing was extremely dynamic and gripping – precise when it called for precision, ragged and loose when the vibe called for it, subtle as a breeze or blunt as a hammer. Although I have yet to be disappointed by any of his recordings, and although I usually like my blues slow and smoldering, I have to mention how remarkable McDowell’s faster, uptempo material was. Urgent, full of fire, unhinged, building tension that begs for a release that never quite comes.

The material can become repetitive, especially on a long two-disk collection like this one, but there is corresponding trance-like magnetism as well created by that repetition. In the live performance documented here, McDowell is accompanied by a bassist (on fretless, I believe) who manages to be both unobtrusive and also to keep up with Fred’s tempo and meter changes that often confounded his occasional rhythm sections. By the second set, the audience is lit up enough to attempt clapping along to some numbers, which I find annoying but thankfully not obnoxious enough to the point of distraction. This is a worthy, perhaps even essential, document of Fred McDowell at the peak of his musical powers during the `blues revival` of the 1960s.

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Live at the Gaslight PART ONE

Live at the Gaslight PART TWO

Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Complete Recorded Works 1938-1944, Vol.2 (1995) 320 kbs

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, 1938-1944
Volume 2, 1942-1944

1 I Want a Tall Skinnny Papa Millinder 2:51
2 What He Done for Me Traditional 2:39
3 I Want Jesus to Walk Around My Bedside Harris 2:38
4 All Over This World Traditional 2:42
5 Pure Religion Traditional 2:33
6 This Train Tharpe 2:29
7 Down by the Riverside Public Domain 3:07
8 Rock Me Tharpe 2:37
9 Rock Me Tharpe 2:47
10 That’s All Tharpe 2:03
11 Trouble in Mind Jones 2:39
12 Rock Daniel Traditional 2:38
13 That’s All Tharpe 2:03
14 Let That Liar Alone Tharpe 2:41
15 The Devil Has Thrown Him Down Traditional 2:51
16 Sleep on Darling Mother Traditional 3:03
17 God Don’t Like It Traditional 2:32
18 I Want to Live So God Can Use Me Tharpe 2:32
19 What’s the News Tharpe 2:52
20 Nobody Knows, Nobody Cares Traditional 2:36
21 Jesus Taught Me How to Smile 3:06
22 Forgive Me Lord and Try Me One More Time Traditional 2:35
23 What Is the Soul of Man 2:31
24 Singing in My Soul Dorsey 2:53
25 I Claim Jesus First Dorsey 2:36
26 Strange Things Happening Every Day Tharpe 2:44
27 Two Little Fishes and Five Loaves of Bread Hamighen 2:51

Review by Stewart Mason

The second of two well-packed discs released on the Austrian reissue label Document, Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2 covers the years of 1942 to 1944, a period during which Tharpe was raising the ire of her religious audience by branching out into a more secular era. Though in retrospect the sentiments of songs like “I Want a Tall Skinny Papa” seem tame, the outcry was similar to when Sam Cooke went pop in the late ’50s: how dare the pop market take away our Sister? It stands to reason; Sister Rosetta Tharpe was gospel’s most fiery voice and one of the finest guitarists in any style of her era. (The stabbing, rhythmic lead guitar underpinning these songs sounds like it was probably a huge influence on Chicago blues later that decade.) The passion and vitality of these performances is remarkable, as is the joy Tharpe clearly takes in the physicality of even her most pious recordings. Even for non-believers, this is rich, fulfilling music. The quality of these transfers on the rarer material can be a little rough, but not distractingly so.

Biography by Jason Ankeny

Alongside Willie Mae Ford Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is widely acclaimed among the greatest Sanctified gospel singers of her generation; a flamboyant performer whose music often flirted with the blues and swing, she was also one of the most controversial talents of her day, shocking purists with her leap into the secular market — by playing nightclubs and theatres, she not only pushed spiritual music into the mainstream, but in the process also helped pioneer the rise of pop-gospel. Tharpe was born March 20, 1921 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas; the daughter of Katie Bell Nubin, a traveling missionary and shouter in the classic gospel tradition known throughout the circuit as “Mother Bell,” she was a prodigy, mastering the guitar by the age of six. At the same time she attended Holiness conventions alongside her mother, performing renditions of songs including “The Day Is Past and Gone” and “I Looked Down the Line.”

In time the family relocated to Chicago, where Tharpe began honing her unique style; blessed with a resonant vibrato, both her vocal phrasing and guitar style drew heavy inspiration from the blues, and she further aligned herself with the secular world with a sense of showmanship and glamour unique among the gospel performers of her era. Signing to Decca in 1938, Tharpe became a virtual overnight sensation; her first records, among them Thomas A. Dorsey’s “Rock Me” and “This Train,” were smash hits, and quickly she was performing in the company of mainstream superstars including Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman. She led an almost schizophrenic existence, remaining in the good graces of her core audience by recording material like “Precious Lord,” “Beams of Heaven” and “End of My Journey” while also appealing to her growing white audience by performing rearranged, uptempo spirituals including “Didn’t It Rain” and “Down by the Riverside.”

During World War II, Tharpe was so popular that she was one of only two black gospel acts — the Golden Gate Quartet being the other — to record V-Discs for American soldiers overseas; she also toured the nation in the company of the Dixie Hummingbirds, among others. In 1944, she began recording with boogie-woogie pianist Sammy Price; their first collaboration, “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” even cracked Billboard’s race records Top Ten, a rare feat for a gospel act and one which she repeated several more times during the course of her career. In 1946 she teamed with the Newark-based Sanctified shouter Madame Marie Knight, whose simple, unaffected vocals made her the perfect counterpoint for Tharpe’s theatrics; the duo’s first single, “Up Above My Head,” was a huge hit, and over the next few years they played to tremendous crowds across the church circuit.

However, in the early ’50s Tharpe and Knight cut a handful of straight blues sides; their fans were outraged, and although Knight soon made a permanent leap into secular music — to little success — Tharpe remained first and foremost a gospel artist, although her credibility and popularity were seriously damaged. Not only did her record sales drop off and her live engagements become fewer and farther between, but many purists took Tharpe’s foray into the mainstream as a personal affront; the situation did not improve, and she spent over a year touring clubs in Europe, waiting for the controversy to die down. Tharpe’s comeback was slow but steady, and by 1960 she had returned far enough into the audience’s good graces to appear at the Apollo Theatre alongside the Caravans and James Cleveland. While not a household name like before, she continued touring even after suffering a major stroke in 1970, dying in Philadelphia on October 9, 1973.

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