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Preserving Country Blues through Education, Performance and Technology
November 17, 2011, 06:25:41 PM by Slack
Views: 2624 | Comments: 0

Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party!   
Written by John Miller

Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party! At Home-Arcola Records, A CD 1001
This wonderful CD was recorded by Arcola Records founder Bob West in 1968, at a couple of home recording sessions/parties, one at the home of Albino Red and two at Furry Lewis's apartment.  The relaxed circumstances in which the recordings were made certainly had a beneficial effect on the music; Bukka White and Furry Lewis are both in outstanding form here, and placing the songs in the context of the parties where they were recorded and including the jocularity and banter of the various friends assembled for the event makes you feel as though you were there yourself.  It really sounds like all concerned had a darn good time.

The program, which is divided roughly equally between Furry and Bukka, is opened by Bukka, with"Hello Central, Give Me 49", a one-chord slide number in Vastapol.  From the opening notes, I found myself staggered by the force of Bukka's playing--it put me in mind of Charlie Patton's aside on "34 Blues":  "My God, what solid power!"  Bukka follows up with "Gray-Haired Woman", similarly in cross-note tuning and working from the "Aberdeen, Mississippi" model, but with a crucial difference:  on "Gray-Haired Woman", Bukka employs a lot of syncopated thumb-popping of the fifth string in conjunction with slides, and the result is riveting.  The lyrics are unusual, too.  The opening verse states,

   I got an old lady and her head is turning gray
   Well, it makes no difference, I ain't gonna throw you away.
"Little Woman's Bed" is played in E standard (you can hear Bukka tuning there from cross-note), and features a descending run as a signature lick that really stays in your mind.  As is most often the case with Bukka's blues, there is no V chord either, it just being hinted at in the treble.  "Tip and Eight Boogie", which I believe Bukka identifies as "Tippin' In Boogie", is a rocking number in A, standard tuning, of a type I had never heard Bukka play before.  He really works the crowd with it by playing a number of false endings, only to start up again when they least expect it.  His "Hambone Blues" which follows, is in G standard, and its intense grooving inspires Furry to shout out, "Oh, play it Mr. Bukka White!  Play it a great long time for Furry Lewis!"  "I'm Drifting", which is back in E standard, shares its accompaniment and melody line with "Little Woman's Bed".  "Bukka's Goodtime Swing" is a hard-driving boogie number.  Bukka returns to cross-note for his closing number, "Please Ma'am", which features a catchy descending run I had never heard utilized in cross-note tuning before.  Bukka's playing throughout his portion of the program has to be heard to be believed.  He was 60 years old at the time, still very strong, and I think his playing here compares favorably with the very best of his pre-rediscovery recordings, like "Sic 'Em Dogs On Me" or "When Can I Change My Clothes".

Furry opens his portion of the program with Going Away Blues", a slide number in Vastapol, and it is great to hear how quickly he grabs the listeners' attention.  He is playing with great time and subtlety of touch, in both hands, and, being Furry, can be counted on for some great lyrics.
   I seed your doney, made me think of mine
   I started a conversation to try to keep from crying.
Furry follows with "John Henry" (also in Vastapol), which he announces is being played expressly for Bukka White.  It is a treat to hear unfamiliar lyrics to such a well-known song.
   John Henry told his piker, "I declare you better pray"
   'Cause if I miss that steel with this 10-pound mawl,
   Tomorrow be your burying day, Goddamn!"
Furry moves to Spanish tuning for "Skinny Woman", and despite being plagued by sniffles, immediately impresses his friends with his finesse and bag of tricks (Bukka notes, "That's solid there!").  Hearing Furry get into a nifty lick at the twelfth fret, I was reminded how under-rated a player he was--everything he does here is so nuanced.  He follows with "Old Blue" in which he, true to his word, makes a banjo out of the guitar, at least in his right-hand technique.  Once again, he must be quoted.
   Had a little dog and his name was Blue
   Blue did for me and I did for Blue.
Out of nowhere, Furry launches into the old sentimental song, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", played as a slide one-chorder in Spanish.  He does an especially nice job of it, and the room silences, except for expressions of praise (from Bukka--"That's pretty.  I like that.  I would buy that.").  Furry follows with another pretty number in Spanish, "Farewell to Thee", in which the solo melds improbably into "Aloha Oe".  You always hear about Hawaiian influence on the early slide players, but this is one of the few instances where it can be heard so explicitly.  "Mama's Fish", also in Spanish, though pitched higher and from a different session, follows, and Furry once again really wows everyone with his bag of tricks, including a syncopated brushing groove combined with tapping on the top of the guitar that sounds like some of the things Charlie Patton did.  I wish I could have seen Furry play this tune.  Furry rounds out the program with "When I Lay My Burden Down" and a strong version of "Kassie Jones".

If my praise of this CD seems a little intemperate, I would say that, if anything, I have understated how good it is.  The playing and singing of Bukka and Furry is stellar throughout, but the additional richness that the circumstances the recordings were made in give to your sense of the time, the place, and the people involved, make listening to this CD a special treat for anyone who really loves this music.  Thanks to Bob West for issuing this material and not just sitting on it.

PROGRAM:  Bukka White:  Hello, Central, Give Me 49; Gray-Haired Woman; Little Woman's Bed; Tip and Eight Boogie; Talking; Hambone Blues; I'm Drifting; Bukka's Goodtime Swing; Please Ma'am; Talking
Furry Lewis:  Going Away Blues; John Henry; Talking; Skinny Woman; Talking; Old Dog Blue; Talking; Let Me Call You Sweetheart; Talking; Farewell To Thee; Mama's Fish; When I Lay My Burden Down; Kassie Jones and a Message From Furry
November 17, 2011, 06:25:00 PM by Slack
Views: 1812 | Comments: 0

Sunnyland Slim-Long Tall Daddy   
Written by John Miller

Sunnyland Slim-Long Tall Daddy, Arcola Records A CD 1006   
The Blues pianist and singer Albert "Sunnyland Slim" Luandrew was born in 1907 near Vance, Mississippi, 20-30 miles southeast of Clarksdale, and died on March 17, 1995.  A listing of performers with whom he played or recorded over the course of his career reads like a "Who's Who" of Blues musicians from the '30s on up to the '80s and '90s, with Little Brother Montgomery, Roosevelt Sykes, Lonnie Johnson, Robert Johnson, Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boys I and II, Muddy Waters, and Robert Lockwood, Jr. numbered among them.  This CD captures a session recorded by Arcola founder Bob West aboard his houseboat on May 7, 1976, during a trip Slim was paying to Seattle accompanied by the youthful Sarah Streeter, who was later to gain recognition as the Chicago blues singer Big Time Sarah.
Slim opens the program with "I'm Tore Up", a rollicking shuffle that lays its cards right on the table:  "I'm tore up, people just as drunk as I can be".  Slim's musical strengths similarly are on display from the word go.  His time is really strong, his reach quite large, and he likes thick scrunchy chordal voicings.  He particularly likes to employ tremolo with the sustain pedal depressed.  That sound reminds me a bit of the great South African Jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim.  Slim is a really strong player here, but to my ears, at least, an even stronger singer, superlative, in fact.  He has that beautiful sort of "horn for a voice" shared by such fellow piano greats as Roosevelt Sykes and Big Joe Duskin. 

"Going Back To Memphis" shares it's melody with ".44 Blues" or "Brownsville Blues".  "The Devil Is A Busy Man", a Sykes number, advises you to watch out!  Slim's version of "Dust My Blues" really pins your ears back when he enters with the vocal, it is so powerful.  I always kind of felt as though that song could have been retired after Elmore James's version, but Sunnyland Slim gives Elmore a run for his money.  Speckled Red's "The Dirty Dozens" ("Dirty Mother Fuyer") is done in an abbreviated version with an informative explanation of God's thoughts and reasoning in creating the elephant's anatomy.  Two beautiful slow Blues, "Smile On My Face" and Leroy Carr's "Prison Bound Blues" follow, with Slim particularly shining in his vocal/instrumental interplay on "Prison Bound".  Big Time Sarah takes over vocal chores for "Long Tall Daddy" ("Long Tall Daddy, why you always hangin' 'round?") and "Got to See My Baby".  Her singing is a treat, real Blues singing, and I especially appreciate the fact that Sarah does not try to turn the Blues into Gospel as do so many present-day singers.  Slim rounds out the program with "Sarah Lee" ("She's so soft and mellow"), an epic version of "Roll and Tumble" that shares it's accompaniment and several verses with "Going Back To Memphis" from earlier in the program and, finally, "Slim's Boogie", which he follows with a scary Woody Woodpecker laugh.

A number of the songs on the CD, especially early in the program, are preceded by fairly lengthy spoken introductions by Slim.  Slim is wonderfully gracious and has great instincts as a story-teller, but a couple of these talking tracks have a rather jumbled narrative flow and get bogged down in name-dropping.  They all contain some great stuff, though, and it gives a truer picture to include them intact rather than subject them to a lot of editing in the interest of achieving greater clarity.

This is a strong CD with very good Blues piano and outstandingly good singing.  It showcases a veteran Blues player at a time in his life when he was utterly at home with his musical style and language, and also captures some of the earliest recorded efforts of a young musician forging her own way with the music.  Highly recommended.

PROGRAM:  I'm Tore Up; Talking; Going Back To Memphis; Talking; The Devil Is A Busy Man; Talking; Dust My Broon; Talking; The Dirty Dozens; Smile On My Face; Prison Bound Blues; Long Tall Daddy; Got To See My Baby; Talking; Sarah Lee; Roll and Tumble Blues; Slim's Boogie
November 17, 2011, 06:24:03 PM by Slack
Views: 2864 | Comments: 9

Babe Stovall-The Old Ace
Written by John Miller

Babe Stovall-The Old Ace Arcola Records A CD 1005

This CD offers 13 songs by, and three brief interviews with, Babe Stovall, a Mississippi-born New Orleans street musician, recorded by Arcola Records founder Bob West in July of 1968.  David Evans's informative liner notes tell us that  Babe was born on October 4, 1907 near Tylertown, Mississippi, approximately 100 miles North of New Orleans, in a part of the state that the blues had not really reached at that time.  Partially as a result of his birthplace, Babe's repertoire tended toward a lot of cut-time pre-Blues material of a type one would not normally associate with a Mississippi player, with a predilection for playing in C and G in standard tuning rather than the Spanish and E standard tunings that you might expect from a delta musician of that era. 
  Babe was also certainly not averse to picking up songs from recordings or wherever else he might hear them.  In the three or four years prior to these recordings being made, Babe had done a bit of touring in the U.S., playing in Boston, New York, Southern California and San Francisco, being taken on his tours by a young musician, Mark Ryan, who had discovered Babe playing in New Orleans and had been impressed by his music.  Babe passed away on September 21, 1974.

  What of Babe's music, then?  He was what could fairly be called a "rough" singer, with a good bit of phlegm in his throat, and a grunty "pushed" sound that must have helped his voice project on the street.  His vocal sound was not what you would call euphonious, but he had a lot of character in his voice, and you definitely get a strong sense of his personality from his singing.  His guitar-playing, recorded here on a National steel-bodied guitar, featured some really nice two-finger picking with thumb and index finger, and you encounter nifty and individualistic touches in his playing virtually everywhere you look.
   The program on this CD has a nice variety.  It opens with "Good Morning Blues", Babe's take on Kokomo Arnold's "Milk Cow Blues", performed in A, standard tuning and incorporating some Lemon Jefferson licks for good measure.  "Candy Man", performed in C standard in the same song family as Rev. Davis's version, follows next.  "Going Away To Wear You Off My Mind", played in G standard, is next, and it is a particularly strong cut, with an abundance of ideas and variations in Babe's guitar part.  Something about Babe's time and phrasing on it reminded me a bit of another great New Orleans player of an earlier era:  Papa Charlie Jackson.  "The Ship Is At The Landing" is a really nice religious number, on which Babe delivers one of his strongest vocals.  "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" was learned by Babe from a Bob Dylan recording he heard in one of the Hippie apartments he stayed in while on tour, and Babe played it in G standard as did Bob.  "Worried Blues" is a catchy little tune in C standard with a moving line on the third string that has something of the pre-Blues sound of Henry Thomas.  "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", which Babe either learned or was reminded of by a recording by Ramblin' Jack Elliott according to the album notes, features some of his most exuberant and least appealing singing.
  Babe's version of the Leroy Carr classic, "How Long, How Long Blues" is really excellent.  Played in G standard, he takes a different approach to the song than any I've heard before, and plays response lines to the vocal lines as he goes, to great effect.  "Dirty Mistreater" is played out of Dropped D and employs the basic accompaniment approach that Tommy Johnson (whom Babe met) employed on "Big Road Blues".  "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" is done in a surprising up-tempo version.  "God's Word Shall Never Pass Away" is done capoed up in a C position and sung right at the top of Babe's vocal range.  Babe's version of "Kansas City Blues", played in C standard, is an especially good one, with some echoes of "Hesitation Blues" in its phrasing and accompaniment, and his medley of "Big Road Blues" and "Careless Love" employs the same Dropped D accompaniment as his version of "Dirty Mistreater".  The program concludes with a couple of interviews Bob West conducted with Babe, and as is so often the case with such interviews, the additional insight you get into who Babe was and how he lived his life make their inclusion in the program very welcome.

  The more I listened to this CD, the more I found I enjoyed it.  Babe's vocal and instrumental skills were not of the type to dazzle you, but he was, in fact, a strong and distinctive player and singer, and I think a closer attention to Babe's performances and material here could yield some really valuable repertoire-building from one of the distinctive musicians and personalities who continued to play this music on up into the 1970s.  A very nice recording and congratulations to Arcola Records for this release and entering the field of Country Blues recording labels.  {mos_smf_discuss:Reviews}
PROGRAM:  Good Morning Blues; Candy Man; Going Away To Wear You Off My Mind; The Ship is at the Landing; Baby Let Me Follow You Down; Worried Blues; Will The Circle Be Unbroken?; How Long How Long Blues; Dirty Mistreater; Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; God's Word Shall Never Pass Away; Kansas City Blues; Medley:  Big Road Blues and Careless Love; Interview 1:  Family; Interview 2:  Playing in New Orleans
November 17, 2011, 06:23:05 PM by Slack
Views: 2562 | Comments: 0

Angola Prisoners' Blues
Written by John Miller

Angola Prisoners' Blues--Arhoolie CD 419       

This CD was recorded by Dr. Harry Oster at Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana in the 1950s.  Arhoolie has released two other CDs of material recorded by Dr. Oster at Angola in the same period, one focusing on work songs and the other on spirituals. 

  The program starts with Robert Pete Williams performing his "Prisoner's Talking Blues", a free-associated recitation over riffing in D on Dr. Oster's twelve-string guitar.  Robert Pete expressed himself so poetically in the normal course of affairs that it is hard to believe he didn't plan out lines like:  "I don't keep well no more.  I keeps sickly.I takes a lot of medicine, but it looks like it don't do no good.  All I have to do is pray; that's the only thing'll help me here.  One foot in the grave, look like, and the other'un out.  Sometime looks like my best day gotta be my last day."

Matthew "Hogman" Maxey follows with a version of "Stagolee", likewise played on Dr. Oster's twelve-string.  Hogman's monicker derived apparently from his mistaken notion as a child that he was a hog doctor.  His version of "Stagolee" is terrific.  Played in E standard, it shares much of the same vocal phrasing as Lloyd Price's popular version from the '50s, but Hogman's time is so driving, fierce really, that the song is given an entirely different feel.  His powerful monotonic bass and one-chord approach (with a hint of a IV chord) remind me of Mance Lipscomb's song "Freddie", from his first album.

Robert "Guitar" Welch, an older man, born in 1896, weighs in next with his version of "Electric Chair Blues", played in Spanish tuning.  Welch's playing is fascinating, because it shows influences of Charlie Patton's Spanish canon as well as Son House's "Special Rider Blues" and some later musicians.  Hogman offers "Black Night Is Falling" in E standard (as are all his tunes on the CD).  Robert Pete does a really spooky version of "Some Got 6 Months" in Dropped D, and an incredibly funky "I'm Lonesome Blues" (which he recorded elsewhere as "Poor Bob's Blues") in A standard.  Guitar Welch does a slide version of "I'm Gonna Leave You, Mama" in Vastapol, and it has something of the sound of a slowed down Kokomo Arnold.
A loose configuration of prisoners sings "Angola Bound".  The same group sings the same melody with different lyrics as "Rise And Fly" on the Angola Spirituals CD.  There are numbers by female inmates, as well.  Clara Young, who has an unbelievably great voice, sings "The Soldier's Plea", an unusual story song or ballad in the Old English sense.  Odea Matthews, who sounds like an older woman, also an excellent singer, performs "The Moon Is Rising", accompanied by her sewing machine.  Thelma Mae Joseph sings "I'm Still In Love With You" (actually Budd Johnson's classic "Since I Fell For You") from the prison laundry  She sounds very young, like a fourteen-year-old.  A vocal group does a nicely loose and pretty Doo-Wop version of "I Miss You So", and Butterbeans does a recitation/toast entitled "Hello Sue" that is similar to ones that some of you may have heard John Dee Holman do at Port Townsend the summer before last.

Hogman does "Fast Life Women" with a great world-weary vocal, and Guitar Welch does "61 Highway Blues".  Otis Webster starts out on "Careless Love" and morphs it into "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"; I had never noticed the similarity in the two songs before.  Webster then accompanies the great singer, Roosevelt Charles, on "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean", called "Have You Ever Heard The Churchbells Tone" here.  The program concludes with Roosevelt Charles recounting the tale of "The Strike At Camp One",  a story of a prison revolt which actually ended up resulting in better conditions for the prisoners.  Mr. Charles deep speaking voice pulls you right into the story.

I am glad that Dr. Oster and Chris Strachwitz took a fairly relaxed definition of what constitutes a Blues for the purposes of putting this program together, because the variety in the program makes it all the more dynamic.  If you like the sound of good strong "country" players and singers of Country Blues, you will find much to admire on this CD.   

PROGRAM:  Prisoner's Talking Blues--Robert Pete Williams; Stagolee--Hogman Maxey; Electric Chair Blues--Guitar Welch; Black Night Is Fallin'--Hogman Maxey; Some Got Six Months--Robert Pete Williams; I'm Gonna Leave You Mama--Guitar Welch; I'm Lonesome Blues--Robert Pete Williams; Angola Bound--A Capella Group; Worried Blues--Hogman Maxey; Josephine--Guitar Welch; Soldier's Plea--Clara Young; The Moon Is Rising--Odea Mathews; I'm Still In Love With You--Thelma Mae Joseph; I Miss You So--Vocal Group; Hello, Sue--Butterbeans; Fast Life Woman--Hogman Maxey; Careless Love--Otis Webster; Have You Ever Heard The Church Bells Tone--Roosevelt Charles & Otis Webster; 61 Highway--Guitar Welch; Strike At Camp 1--Roosevelt Charles
November 17, 2011, 06:22:21 PM by Slack
Views: 3230 | Comments: 0

This Old Hammer - John Miller       
Written by Andrew Mullins

This Old Hammer - John Miller
Orb Discs Orb-1010

This Old Hammer is John Miller's first solo blues outing in over three decades, so one can understand how some people may have been getting a little impatient waiting for this record to appear. His LPs made for Blue Goose in the 1970s are highly regarded -- and nearly impossible to find. Shortly after those albums, John was off exploring different musical directions, with projects over the years ranging from jazz to bluegrass to world music. While those who have had the opportunity to see him perform live in recent years have been able to catch tantalizing snippets of this new blues album at a gig or workshop, finally that music is gathered in one place.

(I should say in the interest of full disclosure that I know John and have studied with him at the Port Townsend Country Blues Workshop for years. Like a lot of people, a great number of them his fellow musicians, I admire his talent and the depth of his knowledge of country blues styles. But given the strength of this album, any possible bias I might have seems irrelevant to me.)

The overall creative approach taken on This Old Hammer is to reinvent country blues originals that have caught John's ear over the years. As he explains in his notes for the CD, "I wanted to retain particular aspects of the songs that I was starting with, but always to be introducing different elements, as well -- perhaps a new melody, different lyrics or a new harmonization, in addition to, in every instance, a different accompaniment." The other element that I think is at least in part being reinvented here is an approach to solo blues guitar playing. John is an extraordinarily creative guitar player in several genres, so it was unlikely that he would stick to tried and true guitar formulas and vocabulary when he is a master at creating his own. Still, these are some startlingly fresh and thoughtful arrangements. Sometimes he will exploit different tunings and positions on the guitar to achieve sounds and textures that open the genre up, while at others he just dazzles with what can be done with a few chords in standard tuning. All of it, however, is in the service of solid music, never simply to appear flashy or impress.

The album opens with the title track, played on an old guitar converted to a 9-string instrument by Todd Cambio of Fraulini Guitars. The melody of this John Henry-themed song originally comes from a collection of field recordings made by Dr. Cortez Reece available on a CD called "Work and Pray". Done here with an accompaniment in Spanish tuning at G, but played in C, the arrangement is a perfect example of how John is able to take a musical idea and build something that is completely new, yet still has a timeless sound to it.

Following is "New Cairo Blues", a standout track here among many remarkable songs. John transforms a classic recording by Henry Spaulding and creates an instant classic of his own. The song mixes traditional lyrics with verses from "Cairo Blues", and it features a hypnotic, drop-dead-catchy signature riff played out of cross-note tuning. The whole thing feels like it walked straight out of the St. Louis of the 1920s and 30s, yet is very much its own tune. As has been noted on Weenie Campbell, a couple of us hear vague strains of Lane Hardin's "Hard Time Blues" in here. To my ear, this is because the guitar part has rhythmic echoes of the song, with a similar pulse and groove. The original Cairo has somewhat lighter time. Regardless of the inspiration, this song is just perfect, and my favorite track on an album where favorites are hard to pick. I'd go so far as to say it is one of the best compositions I've heard from any country blues revivalist, and can't say how may times I've listened to it since receiving this CD.

"My Easy Rider" features tricky guitar work set mostly to the lyrics of Lemon Jefferson, and like Lemon's version of the song is played out of G position. It puts me in mind of what might happen if Bo Carter covered Lemon: cheerful, full of technical brilliance and musical humor, a pleasure. It's followed by a superb jazzy instrumental blues written by John for pianist Erwin Helfer, "Smooth Blues for E.H.", played once again on the 9-string guitar.

The recasting of Lottie Kimbrough's (or Lottie Beaman's) "Rolling Log Blues" is likely to be the other standout track of the record for many people and has a real elemental beauty to it. John preserves the great melody and then creates a new guitar part that rivals the original accompaniment in how immaculately it sits under the vocal. Not so easily recreated (I've tried and failed miserably! You'll need to tune to DGDFAD, equivalent to E standard tuning with the fourth string raised to the tonic, and be masterly and relentless with your glissandos). This is arranging of the highest order: to take one of the most striking songs in the blues catalog and create something equally striking and original.

"Wild About My Lovin'" turns a song done by both Jim Jackson and mandolinist Lonnie Coleman into a decidedly more grown-up version, pianistic in its execution. This is another of my favorites from the collection, the John "Killer" Miller moment of the record, with one of its best, understated vocals too, along with New Cairo. The mood then shifts to a more rural sound with "Walking Boss", the Clarence Ashley tune, transferred here to a laid-back interpretation on an unusual, fretless six-string banjo (built by Jere Canote) and played in Spanish tuning.

"Keep It Clean" is a bit of fun that sets Charley Jordan's lyrics to a new melody and guitar part -- "When it comes to lyrics, you've got to have words," quip the notes -- while the breezy Miller original, "Cool Baby Cool", makes me think of Holly Golightly-era Audrey Hepburn for some incomprehensible reason. It's not necessarily country blues, but it's got tremendous charm. "I'm Gettin' Wild About Her" takes the very country Big Joe Williams into more of a cool blues territory, and Blind Connie Williams' gospel tune, "Milky White Way", has masterly guitar playing -- a redundant statement about this record, but still -- done out of Vestapol, with a break that recalls the nifty octave playing of jazz guitarists like Wes Montgomery or Jim Hall.

The album closes with a beautiful, hymn-like tune, "When We All Get Home", composed in honor of Elizabeth Cotten -- and played out of the lazy man's key of open B-flat! -- that segues into a lively instrumental piece dedicated to John's wife, "Ginny's Frolic."

The fact that a lot these songs don't sound like experiments at all, and more like lost versions of great country blues and traditional songs, is a key element of their success. Others simply dazzle with their humble virtuosity: there is a real depth to the deceptively simple-sounding arrangements. John's right hand technique in particular is quite astonishing on repeated listening (having seen him perform many of these songs, I can attest to the fact that the left hand work is no walk in the park either). His touch and tone -- produced with bare fingers on a Martin OM-28CH and OM OM-18V as well as the aforementioned 9-string and guitjo -- are extraordinary. The recording process here sounds very clean, and the wide tonal variety one hears on the record is all John, with no studio tricks discernable to me.

Musicians love John Miller because he always takes things to a higher level. They show up regularly in his classes at the Port Townsend Country Blues Workshop, sitting alongside the other students. The kind of musical wisdom they pay tribute to when doing that shines through on this album. It's also music that's sure to put you in a good mood -- there's a pleasure in music-making audible in every note of these performances. This Old Hammer has definitely been worth the wait.   

This Old Hammer
New Cairo Blues
My Easy Rider
Smooth Blues for E. H.
Rolling Log Blues
Wild About My Lovin'
Walking Boss
Keep It Clean
Cool, Baby, Cool
I'm Getting Wild About Her
Milky White Way
When We All Get Home/Ginny's Frolic
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