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‘Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – Set 5’ (Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson…) plus BOOK. – News, reviews, articles and commentary from the London jazz scene and beyond

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Matchbox Bluesmaster Series Set 5

1: Lemon Blind Jefferson 1926-1929

2: Frank Stokes 1927-1929

3: Blake blind 1926-1929

4: Big Bill Broonzy 1927-1932

5: Mississippi Sheiks 1930 (Vol. 1)

6: Lonnie Johnson (Vol. 1) 1926-1928

ALSO THE BOOK:

Blues from the Avon Delta: The Matchbox Blues story through Mark Jones

(ALBUM: MSESET5 – 6 CD / BOOK: The Record Press, 120 pages, £ 19.99. Chris Parker Album & Book Reviews)

The fifth set of six CDs of the first blues recordings from the Saydisc coffers exploits the wealth of material (originally released on LPs between 1982 and 1988) which falls under the category of “remaining tracks” or “new on LP”, but – like its predecessors – comes complete with full notes from the late great blues teacher Paul Olivier.

Beginning, rightly (for he was a great pioneer of rural blues, his recordings bringing form to the attention of record-buying audiences in the late 1920s), with Blind Lemon Jefferson, the set begins with the singer’s first secular tracks, “Got the Blues” and “Long Lonesome Blues”, the first featuring the unforgettable opening line: “Well the blues come to Texas, lopin ‘like a mule”. The following cuts include the famous “Match Box Blues” (part of Ma Rainey’s repertoire) and a series of rural life snapshots ranging from fear of being shot (“Cannon Ball Moan”) to a tour of the man of the repo (“Empty House Blues”), all showcasing Jefferson’s finely honed guitar technique and haunting vocal style.

Frank stokes can cast his stylistic net a little wider than Jefferson, including syncopated rhythms of ragtime and dance and passages of playful jokes in his repertoire, but his guitar playing is just as light and skillful, and his lyrics often sultry, as well as his humorous songs, made him an infallible attraction to medical salons when he was still a teenager. Most of the songs included here feature Stokes accompanied by one or the other guitarist. Dan Sané or violinist Will batts (with whom he often performed in a string orchestra popular in country clubs), but his most famous song, “I Got Mine”, is perhaps a rousing solo performance recorded in Memphis in 1928.

Blake Blake has been memorably described (by blues writer Dr Hans R. Rookmaaker) as “a true artist with a personal style, never exceeding his abilities, trying to refine his technique but always staying in the tradition in which he was born, “and eleven of the eighteen tracks featured here are solo recordings that warrant more than such praise. Blake, however, was a guitarist skilled enough to attract the attention of jazz musicians, and several tracks featured on this CD see him collaborating with the great clarinetist. Johnny dodds and the xylophone player Jimmy bertrand, prompting Paul Oliver to speculate rather sadly on “how the blues and jazz combinations could have been developed”. There are also three songs from Bertha henderson, accompanied kindly by Blake as she moaned her dismal words. Blake is a somewhat neglected figure these days, but his technical mastery shines through on these recordings, especially during his solo-guitar releases “Guitar Chimes” and “Blind Arthur’s Breakdown”, which conclude the selection.

Fat Bill Broonzy, on the other hand, has never been overlooked: as Oliver notes, “There are few blues singers as widely recorded, as widely respected in their day, or as consistently good as Big Bill Broonzy. His work, indeed, might just be a good starting point for anyone who wants to familiarize themselves with early blues, as it is intensely communicative and accessible. His clearly articulated guitar playing also foreshadows early blues-style rock guitar (apart from Robert Johnson, of course). Here, Broonzy is presented in a variety of contexts, accompanied by Georgia Tom Dorsey or the Busters Jug, or accompanying the tastes of Bill williams or GOrgy Tom and Jane Lucas in its inimitable manner of lightness and professionalism.

The Sheikhs of Mississippi (the name is a nod to the contemporary popularity of Rudolph Valentino’s favorite film) have been widely recorded (though not at full string power) performing in a variety of musical modes ranging from blues to novelty songs, and this CD focuses on barely a year of release of the family group formed around the thirteen children of Eliza jackson and Henderson Chatmon, later joined by Walter vincson. An intriguing highlight of this selection is a very touching version of “Sitting on Top of the World”, but all of their material is treated with contagious verve and gusto.

Lonnie johnson is already a significant presence on the previous CD sets of this still excellent series; here he gets a record for himself to justify Paul Oliver’s full praise for him: “There has been no blues singer to compare with Lonnie Johnson for the diversity of experience and the extent of respect. … His importance as a blues artist is unquestionable, not only as a singer and guitarist, but also as an influence on his contemporaries… and as an accompanist to singers as diverse as Texas Alexander and Clara Smith. Out of these eighteen tracks he is featured as singer, guitarist and violinist, not to mention banjoist, and he effortlessly demonstrates on each of them why, to quote Oliver again, “there was no name. in the male blues [between 1926 and 1928] better known than that of Lonnie Johnson ”. Inventive, skilful and fluid, he perfectly embodies the spirit and energy that make these Bluesmaster compilations so compulsively listenable.

Also available: Blues from the Avon Delta: The Matchbox Blues Story through Mark Jones (The Record Press, 120pp., £ 19.99), a comprehensive survey of ‘how Blueswailin’ Bristol kicked off the British country blues boom in the late 1960s and became the epicenter of the UK label industry of DIY blues ”. A labor of love, this painstakingly researched work, in addition to providing a story of the British blues boom of the 1960s, lists all of Saydisc’s (and associated companies) releases (with cover images). Blind Boy Fuller and Kokomo Arnold scramble with Jo-Ann and Dave Kelly, Peetie Wheatstraw and Furry Lewis with Mike Cooper and Ian Anderson – the result is truly an aficionado’s dream.

Bluesmaster Vol. 5 released on November 5, 2021

LINKS: Pre-order on Amazon

The book is available at Wyastone


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