Various Artists - Southern Country Blues Vol.2

Amede Ardoin - Blues De Basile - 3.05
Andrew & Jim Baxter - Georgia Stomp - 2.46
Big Joe Williams & Sonny Boy Williamson - Break 'Em On Down - 3.14
Blind Blake - Hey Hey Daddy Blues - 3.13
Blind Boy Fuller & Sonny Terry - You Got To Have Your Dollar - 2.44
Blind Gary Davis - Cross And Evil Woman Blues - 4.00
Blind Lemon Jefferson - Matchbox Blues - 2.55
Blind Willie Johnson - God Moves On The Water - 3.02
Blind Willie Mctell - Love Changing Blues - 3.11
Bo Carter - Banana In Your Fruit Basket - 3.09
Buddy Boy Hawkins - A Rag - 2.57
Cannon'S Jug Stompers - Walk Right In - 2.57
Charley Jordan - Keep It Clean - 2.47
Charley Patton - High Sheriff Blues - 3.10
Ed Bell (Barefoot Bill) - Bad Boy - 3.04
Frank Stokes - T Ain'T Nobody'S Business If I Do - Part Ii - 3.14
Various Artists - T Ain'T Nobody'S Business If I Do - Part Ii - 3.14
Furry Lewis - Big Chief Blues - 2.53
Georgia Cotton Pickers (Buddy Moss, Curley Weaver, Barbecue Bob) - Diddle - Da - Diddle - 3.01
Hattie Hudson - Doggone My Good Luck Soul - 3.10
Henry Thomas - Old Country Stomp - 2.54
Henry Townsend - Henry'S Worry Blues - 3.08
J.T. "Funny Paper" Smith - Howling Wolf Blues - No. 1 - 2.52
Jaybird Coleman - Man Trouble Blues - 3.04
Jim Jackson - Old Dog Blues - 3.03
Josh White - Silicosis Is Killin' Me - 3.01
King Solomon Hill - Down On My Bended Knee - 2.56
Leadbelly - Four Day Worry Blues - 3.07
Lonnie Johnson - Woke Up With The Blues In My Fingers - 3.11
Lottie Beaman - Going Away Blues - 2.35
Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland - Down In Boogie Alley - 2.54
Luke Jordan - Cocaine Blues - 3.22
Ma Rainey With Tampa Red & Georgia Tom - Black Eye Blues - 3.15
Mary Johnson, Henry Brown, Ike Rodgers - Room Rent Blues - 2.48
Memphis Jug Band - Stealin' Stealin' - 3.11
Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe - Pickin' The Blues - 3.05
Mississippi John Hurt - Avalon Blues - 3.05
Mississippi Sheiks - Sitting On Top Of The World - 3.05
Muddy Waters - Country Blues No. 1 - 3.24
Oscar Woods - Don'T Sell It - Don'T Give It Away - 2.33
Papa Charlie Jackson - Papa'S Lawdy Lawdy Blues - 2.35
Peg Leg Howell - Coal Man Blues - 3.07
Robert Johnson - Cross Road Blues - 2.33
Roosevelt Sykes - Poor Boy Blues - 3.01
Skip James - Cypress Grove Blues - 3.13
Son House - My Black Mama - Part Ii - 3.19
Sparks Brothers - 14711 - 3.07
Texas Alexander & Willie Reed - Easy Rider Blues - 2.47
Tommy Johnson - Big Road Blues - 3.23

It is difficult to think of America without thinking of the blues. That is, in some form those ideas and conditions that generated and characterize the blues have been part of the national conciousness since even before America was nation, since the point at which the first Europeans to visit this already populated land transgressed the geographical and cultural shoreline to claim this land as their own spiritually, psychologically, physically, and economically, and the point at which the first enslaved Africans transplanted parts of their West African heritage on the fertile New World soil. Paradoxically, the seeds of the attitudes that both formulated the system of slavery and made possible the ability to survive and transcend those attitudes and the limitations- -and indignities created by them were present in those earliest European visitors. Somehow, large number of those who came here in search of home and community, in search of new start, in search of life of dignity on their own terms, were also capable of subjecting others whose place of origin and philosophy was different from theirs to peculiar brand of intolerance, and of enabling others who arrived here in search of wealth seized by rapacity and exploitation to enslave those people with little effective interference. Curiously, yet consistent with the course of human nature, many of those first European immigrants set about exclusionary and discriminatory practices that eventually became codified in system that shamed the words, deeds, and lives of the framers of that document whose monumental experiment in democracy rang hollow in fractured liberty bell from its first duplicitous clang. And yet it is the principles as articulated by the architects of this country in the revolutionary document declaring independence that are also hallmarks of the music that emerged in the late 19th century to be labeled the blues. Pluribus Unum: out of many, one. In that phrase is- -embodied the idea that there are many individuals in America, each of them forming an important part of the one body, the one group, the one community that makes up (that is, not only comprises but dreams into existence and gives body and character to) the country. Diversity and commonality. Exaltation of the individual and commitment to the group. Respect for the individual voice as significant badge of identity, and healthy respect for improvisation in the face of long tradition of stultifying conventional order. And indeed the blues are remarkable for their diversity as well and inclusive diversity does not just happen it is encouraged, fostered, and nurtured. This quest for personal freedom and satisfying existence (life, liberty, and happiness) is inherent not only in the language but in the style of the music of the descendants of enslaved Africans who indeed had in their own African traditions philosophy committed to the satisfaction and happiness of the individual within the group context. In the blues we find new order generated out of the cultural meeting place (clash) of two distinct traditions, the African and the European, the result of which is something new and and marvelously democratic, though at the same time traditional and (loosely) ordered. It is music that thrives on the voices that individuals can bring to it, that demands that individuals put their John Hancocks stylistically on every song they perform. It is music that embraces "the spirit of the revolutionary moment and improvisatory celebration in the context of comfortably loose but securely established structure that welcomes all comers and allows all identities to exist and flourish." The blues allows, that is, for the immediate inspiration or necessity to be part of the art itself as it is simultaneously generated and performed, and it conceives of art as fluid, ever changing entity rather than fixed form duplicated rigidly from performance to performance. (Of course, it would be mistake to ascribe to American ideals exclusively the style and subject matter of the blues, since African traditions played major part in their genesis, and without those traditions the blues as we know them would not exist. African musical characteristics that seem to have carried over onto American soil percussive techniques; call and response patterns; voice masking techniques; pitch stretching manipulation and melismatic devices; syncopation; stringed instrument tradition; the figure and function of the griot in traditional African communities; and the rhythmic emphasis and complexity, when added to the African tradition of lyric improvisation that unifies the immediate event with ritual and artistic moment all these join together with European elements to formulate music most American, most reflecting the ideals and principles of democracy that denied those rights and freedoms to the people who generated the music and who therefore perhaps best knew what freedom meant and therefore sought to encourage, foster, and nurture it in their art. What this collection admirably demonstrates is the remarkable diversity of Southern country blues tradition sometimes derided by the ill informed as limited field. Especially the first generation of what are frequently termed country blues musicians encompasses good many songsters or music physicianers whose repertoires contained all manner of songs among their blues. Performers here who are included in their ranks are Memphis medicine show performers Frank Stokes (1888 1955), Jim Jackson (c1890 c1937), Gus Cannon (1883 1879) and Walter "Furry" Lewis (1893 1981); from the Southeast, Joshua "Peg Leg" Howell (1888 1966), Andrew and Jim Baxter (dates unknown), Luke Jordan (1892 1952), and Blind Willie McTell (McTier, 1901 1959); Mississippians John Hurt (1893 1966) and the Mississippi Sheiks; Texans Henry Thomas (c1874 ?) and Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897 1929); and Louisiana native Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter, 1889 1949). Among their best representations on this set are Jackson's ballad "Old Dog Blue," the ballad/street cries of Howell on "Coal Man Blues," the square dance sets of "Old Country Stomp" by Henry Thomas, and "A Rag" by Buddy Boy Hawkins (dates unknown). Associations with white musical traditions are reflected in the fact that several musicians contained herein recorded with white performers as well, including Andrew Baxter with the Georgia Yellow Hammers string band, Oscar Woods (c1900 c1956) with country singer Jimmie Davis, Amede Ardoin (c1896 1941) with fiddler Dennis McGhee, and Lonnie Johnson (1889 1970) with jazz guitarist Eddie Lang and comedienne Martha Raye all of which serves to place the blues in broader musical milieu and indicate the music's complex and lively origins and influences. The "archetypal" country blues performer is often depicted as down and out, dissolute, technically limited guitarist, but the picture that emerges on this set once again reflects more of the novel (even ingenious) and varied instrumentation of the tradition, as well as the superb musicianship of semi professional and professional musicians who employ techniques both sophisticated as in "Cross and Evil Woman Blues" by Gary Davis (1896 1972) or cuts by Lonnie Johnson and Blind Blake and rudimentary in just the right balance to make their art intellectually and emotionally affecting and effective. Among the many guitar players included, we also hear jug, kazoo, and banjo mandolin players on the Memphis Jug Band's "Stealin';" harmonica players Will Shade (1898 1966), Burl "Jaybird" Coleman (1896 1950), and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson (1914 1948); fiddle on the Mississippi Sheiks' track; banjo by Papa Charlie Jackson- @- (, -(? 1938); the rarely recorded quills piped masterfully by Henry Thomas; piano by Walter Roland (? c1970s) with Lucille Bogan (1897 1948), Georgia Tom Dorsey (1899 1983) with Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (1886 1939), and the inimitable Roosevelt Sykes (1906 1983); and accordion on the tune by cajun legend Amede Ardoin. And not only is the instrumentation varied, but so is the manner in which they are played. For example, the stringed instruments are played in standard, open (the Georgia Cotton Pickers), and localized/personalized tunings, like that of Bentonia native Skip James (1902 1969). They are flatpicked and fingerpicked, engaged with slide and without and, among the slide players, executed both in lap style in the case of Oscar Woods and in conventional position as performed by Memphis Minnie (Lizzie Douglas, 1897 1973) and Curley Weaver (1906 1962) on his Georgia Cotton Pickers side with Barbecue Bob (Robert Hicks, 1902 1931) and Eugene "Buddy" Moss (1906 1984). Among the harmonica players, Jaybird Coleman, Will Shade, and Buddy Moss play in cross harp position, while Sonny Boy Williamson blows straight harp with Big Joe Williams (1903 1982). This mix of "legitimate" instruments and "found" ones (such as the jug), and the array of approaches to playing them, emphasizes the freedom and openness with which African American musicians conceived and carried out their artistic visions, the extent to which it was rooted in their lives and the objects around them, reflecting, very possibly, connection to an African conception of art as central to one's daily purpose and existence, rather than peripheral pastime. These performers with varied repertoires and instrumentation likewise find themselves in various groupings as well, from soloists such as Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield, 1915 1983), to the duets of the Sparks Brothers and Blind Boy Fuller (1908 1941) with Sonny Terry (Saunders Terrell, 1911 1986), to trios and largers groups, including the Georgia Cotton Pickers, the Mississippi Sheiks, Mary Johnson (1905 ?) and her accompanists, and the Memphis Jug Band. Of course, these types of recorded groupings do not necessarily reflect the performance personnel as artists appeared live on the streets or in clubs, where there was an admirable fluidity which frequently welcomed various voices to join in even as central performer or core personnel kept performances in (acceptably loose) order. Vocally there are number of different approaches that reflect the voice masking techniques common among West African singers, including the harshness of Charley Patton (1887 1934), the strangulated wail of Robert Johnson (1911 1938), and the gentle smoothness of Luke Jordan and Charley Jordan (c1890 1954). Beyond that, singers may perform in their regular speaking ranges or employ yodelling techniques as Lottie Beaman (Lottie Kimbrough, c1900 ?) and Tommy Johnson (1896 1956) do, or adopt falsetto approaches, as in Skip James's "Cypress Grove Blues." And certainly part of the attraction of jug band music is the marvelously drunken charm of group vocals like those on "Stealin'," which would of course horrify more staid, mannered, professional musicians but jaunt along in perfectly proper manner on this performance. Once again, the boundaries of what is acceptable in the European tradition are blurred and expanded through contact with the African tradition to create truly more expansive field for the creative artist. In terms of stanza patterns, we encounter not only the most common 12 bar AAB pattern, but bar verses in "Stealin'," "Sitting On Top of the World," and "Papa's Lawdy Lawdy Blues" and vaudeville styled patterns in Ma Rainey's "Black Eye Blues" and "Hey Hey Daddy Blues" by Blind Blake (Arthur Phelps, 1890s c1932). Musically, the IV chord progression is frequently- @- (, -present on the 12 bar blues, but examples of modal 12 bar performances by Henry Townsend (1909) and Ed Bell (1905 1966) demonstrate another important part of the blues tradition. Stylistically, the blues seem to have developed regional characteristics based on number of important variables. Regional African sources for slaves brought to particular regions of America; the amount and type of social, political and cultural interaction between blacks and whites in the area; the accessibility of other types of music, based on the nature of economic development in the area, for example; the dominance in style and popularity of distinctive local performer; and the level of access to performance venues and commercial blues recordings all of these elements played part in the development of particular tendencies in regional blues styles. These are merely tendencies because, as we have said, the blues at its heart encourages individual expression that involves becoming attuned to one's inner spirit as much as it does tuning in the sounds in the winds of tradition. So while the Mississippi Delta blues is frequently described as being insistent, intense, jagged, and harsh, it can also make space for the quieter melancholy of Skip James or the sprightly lilt of Mississippi John Hurt. In Texas, where work songs and field hollers seem to be prominent influence on the vocals of Texas Alexander, Bessie Tucker, Rambling Thomas, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, the charming, folk melody jauntiness of Hattie Hudson (dates unknown) and the whorehouse ragtime influenced piano styles are significant and welcome rejoinder. Then out in St. Louis, where the obscure Henry Spaulding seems to have spread around good bit of influence down on Biddle Street, center of blues activity, it is hard to imagine three more distinctive guitars players than locals Henry Townsend, and Charley Jordan, both of whom seem to have been directly influenced by Spaulding, and the elegant Lonnie Johnson, who nevertheless also knew where the alley was when he needed to get there. And the heavy influence of ragtime in the Southeast, which helped generate blues with dazzling and dizzying guitar runs full of exuberance and flash, did little to enforce uniformity on the dominant musical personalities of the area, generating the twelve string brilliance of the Atlanta school represented by Willie McTell, the South Carolina rags of Gary Davis and Willie Walker, and the frequently bawdy but also occasionally sensitive and lyrically inventive Blind Boy Fuller of Durham, N.C. The many styles, frequently (but not always) centered around some core regional characteristics, ultimately coalesce into one multivarious and celebratory body of work. And then there is the vast array of subjects. Issues of homelessness and rootlessness and the importance of "home" as concept denoting comfort and safety are common, addressed here in "Avalon Blues." Lottie Beaman contemplates going away, in her case by train, while the Memphis Jug Band deals with coming back, in their case on foot. The common vices are all represented: alcohol ("High Sheriff"), drugs ("Cocaine"), prostitution ("Don't Sell It"), violence ("Black Eye Blues"), gambling ("Break Em On Down"), alley life in general ("Down in Boogie Alley"), and prison ("Bad Boy"), with related forays into scrapes with the law ("High Sheriff"), and promiscuous sex ("Banana"). We should point out, however, that there are fair number of blues songs that celebrate good spouse or partner and indicate desire to please and pamper, as in Blind Blake's "Hey Hey Daddy Blues." Of course, good many songs refer to the effects of poverty, as in "Match Box Blues," and depict social stratification by skin color ("My Black Mama") and social protest ("Silicosis Blues"). But it should not be forgotten that the blues address spiritual concerns, as in Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues," and in the John T. "Funny Papa/Funny Paper" Smith (dates unknown) song "Howling Wolf Blues No. 1," where he sings- @- (, -"Seem like God don't treat me like I'm human kind/Seems like he wants me to be prowler and howlin wolf all the time." The mournful voiced, tasteful slide guitarist Joe Holmes (? 1949) seems to have taken his nom du disque from local church, becoming the evocative and colorful King Solomon Hill. And although he was not blues singer, the manic Blind Willie Johnson confronts his demons with the technique and force of the most powerful blues singers, influencing good number of performers who did not address his God in their performances. Now, much has been made of the seeming antipathy between Christian true believers and the musicians some felt were playing the devil's music in their blues, as well it should, though in many instances it seems that the blues singer is soul struggling for faith and strength in time of trouble like any other religious person, appealing to greater force outside of him or herself (or from deeper within) for guidance and resolution and there have been any number of blues performers who have no qualms about singing blues and hymns side by side, or blues during the week and hymns on Sunday. Ultimately the blues deal not with just an American question but universal and timeless spiritual question: what are we going to do about man's inhumanity to man? And the answer? Expose it. Confront it. Reflect it. Mock it. Transcend it by making of it new life that causes others to see, feel, understand, and finally celebrate what has been created rather than wallow in what had been wrought. Affirm the best that humanity has to offer as best you can. Not that the blues is all sweetness and light. Composed, obviously, by humans, it can reflect the limitations of humans with regard to their treatment of others witness the strong strain of misogyny, reflective of society as whole, in the blues. But for getting together to go with the flow, for interacting and gelling jamming for letting go and rearing back and liberating your voice, your own real voice, to tell your story with style and humor and feeling and invention for being able to let the moment take you where you need to go, with your soul in the driver's seat what is better than the blues? Steve Tracy is assistant professor of Afro American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is author of Langston Hughes and the Blues (1988),

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