Townes Van Zandt – For The Sake Of The Song (1968)

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Townes Van Zandt
For The Sake Of The Song
1968 Poppy Records (PYS-40.001)

Reissued 1993 on Tomato Records (598.1091.29)

1 For The Sake Of The Song 4:45
2 Tecumseh Valley 2:40
3 Many A Fine Lady 3:52
4 Quick Silver Daydreams Of Maria 3:41
5 Waitin’ Around To Die 2:22
6 I’ll Be Here In The Morning 2:42
7 Sad Cinderella 4:40
8 The Velvet Voices 3:12
9 Talkin’ Karate Blues 3:01
10 All Your Young Servants 3:04
11 Sixteen Summers, Fifteen Falls 2:36

Produced by Jack Clement and Jim Malloy

It’s a new year. I am short of words. Barely hanging on here really. Where did everybody go?

Majestic.

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*note: the track titles for numbers 9 & 10 are reversed, sorry about that but that is how they apppeared via the all-knowing cddbase
This one will be cross-listed at the long-defunct FLABBERGASTED FOLK page

Hard Times Come Again No More, Vol. 1 & 2: Early American Rural Songs of Hard Times and Hardship

yazoo

1. THE BENTLEY BOYS, Down On Penny’s Farm
2. BLIND ALFRED REED, How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live
3.LANE HARDIN,Hard Time Blues
4. ERNEST STONEMAN, All I Got’s Gone
5. SLIM SMITH, Bread Line Blues
6. ALEC JOHNSON, Miss Meal Cramp Blues
7. KELLY HARRELL, My Name Is John Johanna
8. DAVE MCCARN, Serves ‘Em Fine
9. J.D. SHORT, It’s Hard Time
10. UNCLE DAVE MACON, All In Down And Out
11. RUTHERFORD & FOSTER, Richmond Blues
12. ELDER CURRY & HIS CONGREGATION, Hard Times
13. COFER BROTHERS, Georgia Hobo
14. BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON, One Dime Blues
15. FIDDLIN’ JOHN CARSON, Dixie Boll Weevil
16. CHUBBY PARKER, See The Black Clouds A’Breakin’ Over Yonder
17. SCRAPPER BLACKWELL, Down And Out Blues
18. EDWARD L. CRAIN, Starving To Death On A Government Claim
19. BARBECUE BOB, We Sure Got Hard Times
20. SAMANTHA BUMGARNER, Georgia Blues
21. MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT, Blue Harvest Blues
22. DIXON BROTHERS, Weaver’s Life
23. GRAHAM BROTHERS, Hard Times Come Again No More

yazoo

1. ALLEN BROTHERS, Price Of Cotton Blues
2. COFER BROTHERS, Keno The Rent Man
3.BARBECUE BOB, Bad Time Blues
4. UNCLE DAVE MACON & SAM MCGEE, Wreck Of The Tennessee Gravey Train
5. CLAYTON MCMICHEN & RILEY PUCKETT, The Arkansas Sheik
6. PEG LEG HOWELL & JIM HILL, Away From Home
7. EARLY JOHNSON & HIS DIXIE ENTERTAINERS, I’m Satisfied
8. CAROLINA TAR HEELS, Got The Farm Land Blues
9. BO CARTER & WALTER VINSON, Times Is Tight Like That
10. FISHER HENDLEY, Weave Room Blues
11. W.A. LINDSEY & ALVIN CONDER, Boll Weavil
12. JOE WILLIAMS, Providence Help The Poor People
13. MCGEE BROTHERS, The Tramp
14. DAVE MCCARN, Cotton Mill Colic
15. CHARLEY JORDAN, Starvation Blues
16. ERNEST STONEMAN, Broke Down Section Hand
17. JULES ALLEN, Little Old Sod Shanty
18. SLEEPY JOHN ESTES, Down South Blues
19. RED BRUSH ROWDIES, No One’s Hard Up But Me
20. LEE BROTHERS, Cotton Mill Blues
21. BLIND BLAKE, No Dough Blues
22. CHARLIE MCCOY & BOB CARTER, The Northern Starvers Are Returning Home
23. JIM BAIRD, Them Good Old Times Are Coming Back Again

Hard Times Come Again No More: Early American Rural Songs of Hard Times and Hardship
—————————————–Classic Recordings from the 1920s and 30s
Released on Yazoo Records, 1998 (YAZOO 2036, 2037)
This wonderful compilation from the fine people at Yazoo is an amazing thing. It plays like an audio documentary that should be essential listening for anyone who holds citizenship in the United States, as well as those who don’t but like to go around talking about how all Americans are straight-laced Puritans who worship money. These songs are akin to oral histories and testimonies from people all too often left out of those elementary history textbooks, even today. The people that were hurt most by the Great Depression because they didn’t have much to begin with; a critique of capitalism that took place in a context far removed from halls of erudite intellectuals or legislative debates. If Eugene V. Debs had an extensive record collection, if the May Day Riots (both 1894 and 1919) and the Haymarket Riots had an anachronistic soundtrack – they might have sounded like this. An anachronism because these songs were committed for posterity after those incidents had passed, but as the notes point out, the Stephen Foster song from which this collection takes its title dates from the Civil War. And the artists and recordings presented here do not hail from the Midwestern locales of those aforementioned events, but come from the post-Reconstruction South.

The liner notes (written by Charles Wolfe and Don Kent) and are up to Yazoo’s usual standards, and tackle the difficult task of discussing the more than 40 songs included here. It is worth noting, however, that the notes are racially segregated, split into two halves that deal with the largely white performers of “old timey” music, fiddle tunes, and hobo songs in the first section, with blues music , minstrel and medicine-show numbers treated in the second. To point this out is not to object to it, since it is merely a way of organizing the notes and one that reflects the divisions in US society. But I will say that Wolfe’s notes, which detail the struggles of farmers, cotton-mill workers, and rail-riding tramps and hobos, provide a lot more of contextual contours than Kent’s, which for the most part stick to the biographical elements of the artists’ background and careers.

Thankfully, Yazoo did not present the music itself in this “segregated” way but instead interwove all these elements, lending us a glimpse into the similar challenges and hardships faced by blacks and poor whites in the south at this time, and the similar musics that sprung from them. While a goodly number of the performers here will be familiar to the Flabbergasted Family, it is mostly the blues artists whose names will ring bells. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Scrapper Blackwell (best known for his recordings with Leroy Carr), Joe Williams, Mississippi John Hurt, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Blake — these names are standard touchstones in the discography of country blues. Others selections are less famous, like Charlie Jordan’s excellent “Starvation Blues” and Bo Carter & Walter Vinson’s “Times Is Tight Like That”, and Barbecue Bob’s two selections, are more “deep cuts” in the blues canon and their inclusion here is much appreciated. The old-timey artists, fiddle players, and medicine show material are probably less recognizable to most (at least, they were to me) with the notable exception of Uncle Dave Macon who is more famous for the songs he authored than the ones he recorded. In fact some of the artists here are not included in any other compilations of the CD-era and would only be known to collectors of obscure 78’s. Some of my favorites from this material are “All I Got’s Gone” (Ernest Stoneman), “Got The Farm Land Blues” (Carolina Tar Heels). “Little Old Sod Shanty” (Jules Allen), “Starving to Death on a Government Claim” (Edward L. Crain), and “Weaver’s Life” (Dixon Brothers). These are just some personalized highlights, and its hard to pick them because all the material here is first-rate.

Of course we all know that the invisible hand of the free market has rendered such hard times an obsolete relic of the past, never to be repeated again, thus rendering the critiques documented here irrelevant to the present day. At least that is what Milton Friedman told me over drinks one night.

Hard Times Come Again No More, Vol. 1: 320kbs em pee tree / FLAC Lossless

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Hard Times Come Again No More, Vol. 2: 320kbs   / FLAC Lossless

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Lightnin' Hopkins – Soul Blues (1966)

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Lightnin’ Hopkins
“Soul Blues”
Recorded in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey in May 4-5, 1964.
Recording Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder.
Originally released on Prestige / Bluesville (PR 7377), 1966
Digital remastering by Phil De Lancie (1991, Fantasy Studios, Berkeley).

01. I’m Going to Build Me a Heaven of My Own
02. My Babe
03. Too Many Drivers
04. I’m a Crawling Black Snake
05. Rocky Mountain Blues
06. I Mean Goodbye
07. The Howling Wolf
08. Black Ghost Blues
09. Darling, Do You Remember Me
10. Lonesome Graveyard

Lightnin’ Hopkins (vocals, guitar)
Leonard Gaskin (bass)
Herbie Lovelle (drums)

Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins recorded and released so many records it is hard to know where to tell a person to start. But this record is as good a place as any, featuring him playing both with and without a band on electric and acoustic guitar. Country blues musicians such as Hopkins and contemporary Fred McDowell were not easy guys to accompany if you were a rhythm section. They frequently would change tempos and chord structures at will, and you had to be paying close attention to see a change coming or catch it quickly when it caught you off guard. There are a few places on this session where the songs almost break down but the vibe never wavers. Immaculately recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, this is one of Hopkin’s best. The CD reissue includes the rather worthless liner notes of a Houston DJ who doesn’t seem to have anything the least bit informative or insightful to say, but it was nice of Prestige to include them. I guess.

“I’m Going to Build Me A Heaven On My Own”, which is dedicated “to all the womens of the world,” is probably the strangest song I have ever heard from him. Coming off as at least partly improvised, it is a rambling, irreverent, and quite probably blasphemous bit of blues. Willie Dixon’s “My Babe” is a perfect choice for Hopkins and you can easily appreciate why he was so influential as a guitarist-singer. “Too Many Drivers” is an environmental protest song about traffic congestion and greenhouse gases. “I’m a Crawling Black Snake” is a reworking of John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake” for which he receives no credit. I could keep doing this for every song but my fingers will get tired. Why don’t you just listen to the record? The last three cuts, however, are particularly splendid. “Black Ghost Blues” is not recommended for the insomniacs out there. “Darling, Do You Remember Me?” is a uncharacteristically tender and melodic tune that is both stark and sweet — “You’re face / something I wanna see / Just to know darlin’ / you used to enjoy with me / but hello, hello darling / baby, do you remember me?” The song is Hopkins all by himself – which makes me wonder if there was a full-band take that didn’t quite work, prompting this version. It is particularly worth you attention because, freed from the obligations of playing with a rhythm section, we can see the logic of Hopkin’s improvisational flights, unanchored one moment, back in the pocket the next. The last track is one of the best ‘haunting’ blues about death and dying that was ever committed to tape, sprinkled with Hopkins’ own “gallows humor.”

This post is dedicated to Celia in Portugal who has said she’s been liking the blues posts.

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Mississippi John Hurt – The Complete Studio Recordings (2000)

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Blues for all seasons and any time of day.

I must have been about seventeen years old when I came across a copy of Mississippi John Hurt`s album “Today” at what was then one of two shops that sold vinyl in the small city where I was working as either a dishwasher or a line cook or something and living in a crappy apartment. They kept all their vinyl in a cellar downstairs from the CDs and VHS rental business that was probably paying their bills. On this particular week they were clearing out a bunch of stuff that had been there forever and which I guess they assumed nobody really wanted. I went home with armloads of Junior Wells, Memphis Slim, Professor Longhair, and other delights. I remember with great clarity specifically flipping through this one stack of albums and finding “Today” on Vanguard Records, still sealed, and being struck immediately by the cover. Here was this serene, smiling man radiating warmth and some kind of otherworldly understanding that I needed to buy that record, right then and there, and take it home so it would change my life.

I had never heard anything like it before. I was well-groomed in the harsher, rough-shod, angrier Delta Blues of Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Fred McDowell. I had begun a love affair with blues piano players and was convinced I wanted to move to New Orleans after I saved some money, maybe sometime after I turned eighteen. But I had no real context for Mississippi John Hurt. There was just no way I could imagine Keith Richards shooting heroin while listening to this stuff. Sure, it had sadness in it, but also tranquility. Listening to John Hurt was an instantly soothing experience, more gratifying than any of the drugs I was currently poisoning myself with. His voice was incomparable, carrying in it all the clichés you could possibly think of about old wise black men who have transcended their suffering somehow. Resigning myself to never being to able to sing like him, I quickly devoted myself to learning how to play “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor.” Somehow that tune represented much of what I was loving in his sound, the syncopated movement, upbeat but not hurried, complex but not flashy, reminding me of what Scott Joplin might have sounded like if he were a guitarist, and then adding a major-7 chord change that just kills me every time it comes around. Most guitarists will recognize that Hurt’s playing may sound deceptively simple and natural but is actually quite complex. And the way his hands and voice working together was wonderful, often finishing a vocal line with his guitar rather than singing it. This was basically the only John Hurt song I would ever play, which is odd, because I am pretty sure I could have picked up quite a few of them after understanding his cross-picking patterns to the extent that I did. I think there was something about the magical quality of listening to that album for the first time, of hearing this man play his delicately strident, quietly confident guitar underneath his warm but also frail voice — something about that felt like a holy experience that I did not want to spoil by trying to learn all the man’s “secrets”. There are not too many male blues artists whose work was capable of evoking this level of nuance and beauty, haunting but never haunted.

This collection of this three studio albums is a godsend. The music could have been crammed onto two discs but not without splitting up one of them into two parts, and I appreciate the integrity of keeping the running order intact. The liner notes by John Milward are a good read, supplying a lot of essential background, anecdotes, and a sense of what it was like for John Hurt to be a black man performing for an almost exclusively white audience during the blues and folk revival of the 1960s. Although Hurt had recorded quite a few songs for Okeh Reocrds in the late 1920s, he had not been actively performing for decades before a couple of blues enthusiasts, inspired by the 78’s he cut for Okeh (two of which were included on the influential Anthology of American Folk Music released by the Folkways label in 1952) resolved to track him down. They found him where he was still living in the small unincorporated community of Avalon and working as a sharecropper, and convinced a reluctant and suspicious Hurt to travel with them to Washington D.C. and make some recordings. Listening to the results of those recordings made for the Library of Congress (collected in two volumes and issued recently as “D.C. Blues” on the Fuel 2000 label), you can hear that while his voice is still warm, his finger-picking is not quite as strong as it had been, or would be again. Simply an issue of being out of practice, something that would soon change, and quickly. Hurt would soon become a darling of the new folk revival of the 1960s.

The fairy-tale story of the performer floundering in obscurity (otherwise known as normal, daily existence for most of us) and being rediscovered is such an overworked trope it merits its own Jungian archetype. Someday I want to make a catalog of them all in a table or spreadsheet, starting with people like John Hurt, and Cartola (born Agenor de Oliveira) who although he had been one of Brazil’s foremost and in-demand samba composers in the 1930s had been ‘rediscovered’ working at a car wash in the mid-1950s by a music journalist who recognized him. Although getting a chance to live out the last of your days playing the music you love to adoring audiences in cozy clubs or massive folk festivals is not a bad note to go out of this world on, he didn’t get rich from it and never made a dime off his own recordings. As John Milward writes, Hurt was still a subaltern in American society, “the only difference was that the white people he worked for now didn’t own farm or cattle, but coffeehouses and record companies.” Milward recounts how Hurt befriended another southerner and Vanguard artist, white folk singer Patrick Sky, who produced the sessions that became these three albums, and spent much time with Hurt hanging around with Dave Van Ronk and getting loaded. Sky had to more or less lock everyone else out of the studio to get Hurt to loosen up enough to do his thing and capture these moments. Something I never realized until coming across this collection of all three albums was that Mississippi John Hurt never even got to see the impact of these recordings, as he passed away in the same year they began to be released.

While many blues enthusiasts — purists as many of them tend to be — swear that the 1920s 78s are superior, I am very attached to these recordings, particularly “Today.” Perhaps because I am, at heart, a romantic, and it was in this aural context that I encountered John Hurt. I am also a sucker for well-made recordings rather than scratchy 78s, and my hipster friends who love scratchy 78s can laugh at me if they want, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

john hurt

“Today”
Released 1966 on Vanguard VSD-79220

Of the three albums presented in this collection, “Today” still remains my favorite. As I already stated, sentimental reasons come into play here, but it is also a very, very strong listening experience. The aforementioned “Pallet” which — unbeknownst to me at the time – was largely a reworking of Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train”, and which was also covered by none other than Gillian Welch years after I discovered the song. “Corrina, Corrina” is also a song that’s always been dear to me and has taken on unintended nuances I never expected, folding my own stories into his. “Coffee Blues” definitely gets and award for the best product-placement in a mid-60s acoustic blues song. Then there is the immortal, gorgeous rendition of Louis Collins. In fact “Today” features a whole lot of the songs he cut for Okeh, with the very notable exception of “Frankie” which is strangely left off all of these discs. But how many albums in your collection have the line, “Goddamn them sheep, goddamn them sheep” on them? None? That’s what I thought. So obviously, you need this album in your life.

john hurt

“The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt”
Released 1967 on Vanguard VSD-79248

“The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt”, released after his death, is just a vital even if not quite as strong as “Today.” The gospel of “When I Lay My Burden Down” is as uplifting as any hymnal, “Moaning the Blues” lays an accent on a low bass note that brings out the swamp in Hurt’s delta. The song also introduces a second-guitar (played by Sky if I am not mistaken) for the first time on these records. They would take this approach only a few times across the three days of recording that produced these albums, and it works quite well. Other highlights are “I’ve Got The Blues and I Can’t Be Satisfied,” and of course the iconic Stagolee, which is about a very bad man. Like bookends, the album closes with another gospel tune, “Nearer My God to Thee”.

john hurt

“Last Sessions”
Released 1972 on Vanguard VSD 79327

“Last Sessions” is sort of the clunker of the bunch. There are no bad songs on it (although his reading of ‘Goodnight Irene’ doesn’t do much for me personally) but it seems obvious to me why this material was kept in the vault until the 70s and left off the first two releases in favor of more inspired material. A lot of it just lacks the inspiration found on the material collected on the first two. Still, it has some essential music on it. “Poor Boy Long Ways From Home” is a blues touchstone, “Farther Along” is another spiritual anthem,”Shortnin’ Bread” stands out and makes me hungry, and “Good Morning, Carrie” shows a subtlety not found in a lot of blues, a song of unrequited love upon news that the object of his affection is about to be married to another. The second guitar on this one works really well. My favorite here, though, has to be “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” which has some of the best lyrics anywhere on this entire collection:

Blues all on the ocean, blues all in the air.
Can’t stay here no longer, I have no steamship fare.
When my earthly trials are over, carry my body out in the sea.
Save all the undertaker bills, let the mermaids flirt with me.

I do not work for pleasure, earthly peace I’ll see no more.
The only reason I work at all, is drive the world from my door.
When my earthly trials are over, carry my body out in the sea.
Save all the undertaker bills, let the mermaids flirt with me.

Vanguard did a very nice job on this set, albeit a little sparse on packaging and photography. The mastering is quite nice, superior to the CD pressing I’ve heard of “Today” (the only one I’ve ever come across on CD). In fact the mastering engineer was able to restore bass frequencies that were rolled off of the original vinyl pressings, although I have not sat down to do an A/B comparison to have any opinion about that.

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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


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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