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It’s time to revisit America’s musical Mother Lode—southern country blues. It’s hard to overstate the influence and emotional power of this rich, primal, raunchy, reverent, dynamic, gentle, joyous, aching, deeply human music. No need to discuss its importance to jazz. No need to mention that without the blues there would be no rock ‘n roll. No need to talk about the impact of the blues on 20th-century music from Tin Pan Alley to the concert stage.
Country blues stands on its own, as this 3-CD set amply demonstrates. This collection, drawn from some 30 years of historic recordings, presents many of the greatest artists in the form in all of their raw power and honesty—and all their subtlety and variety.
We begin with Charley Patton’s classic “High Water Everywhere.” Listen to the rhythmic interplay between guitar and voice—a deep, affecting snarl of a voice—as he tells the story of the disastrous 1927 Mississippi River flood. Then comes a very different approach to death by a very different artist: Blind Lemon Jefferson, singing “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The voice is higher, the rhythms less insistent, the melodic lines more complex.
And so it goes throughout this wonderful set. Here is Henry Thomas, a “songster” from the 1920s singing “Bull Doze Blues,” which was famously covered by Country Joe and the Fish in the 1960s—right down to the chorus Thomas played on his “quills,” Pan-pipes made from sugar cane. Here too is the powerful, full-throated Son House in “My Black Mama,” and the great Robert Johnson singing “Preachin’ Blues.”
You’ll find other famous blues shouters —Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy and Lightnin’ Hopkins—and many that aren’t so famous. Unless you’re a blues aficionado, for instance, you probably never heard of Jaybird Coleman or Gitfiddle Jim. You’ll hear women such as Blind Mamie Forehand and Lottie Kimbrough. And you’ll hear groups such as Cannon’s Jug Stompers, the Dallas String Band and the Georgia Cotton Pickers.
As those names suggest, blues artists came from all over the South. Many came from the Mississippi Delta, of course, but many others came from Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and points all over the map. And while they all sang the blues, their approaches to the music were as individual as fingerprints. When the young Mick Jagger heard the blues for the first time back in the 1950s, he called it “the most honest thing I ever heard.” As The Greatest In Country Blues demonstrates, he was onto something.
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Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Garfield Akers, Richard ‘Rabbit’ Brown, Washington Phillips, Blind Willie McTell, Tommy Johnson, Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Bobby Grant, Blind Willie Reynolds, Son House, Henry Thomas, Ishman Bracey, Blind Mamie Forehand, Mississippi John Hurt, Jaybird Coleman, Frank Stokes, Willie Brown, Buddy Boy Hawkins
Skip James, William Versey Smith, Sam Collins, George ‘Bullet’ Williams, Blind Joe Taggart, “Hi” Henry Brown, Lottie Kimbrough & Winston Holmes, Texas Alexander, Memphis Jug Band, Gitfiddle Jim, Robert Johnson, Furry Lewis, Bessie Tucker, Dallas String Band, Memphis Minnie, Blind Roosevelt Graves, Robert Wilkins, Palmer McAbee, King Solomon Hill, Blind Blake
Smith Casey, Bozie Sturdivant, Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, Georgia Cotton Pickers, Bukka White, Lane Hardin, Jesse James, Allen Shaw, Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell, Pete Harris, Elmore James, Kid Bailey, Smokey Hogg, Dan Pickett, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lowell Fulson, Rube Lacy, Willaim Harris, Lightnin’ Hopkins