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Preserving Country Blues through Education, Performance and Technology
November 17, 2011, 06:41:46 PM by Slack
Views: 3384 | Comments: 4

Mama's Angel Child - The Little Brothers       
Written by Bruce Nemerov      

Mama's Angel Child - The Little Brothers
Penny Records

I've been listening, off and on, to Mama's Angel Child by the Little Brothers for two or three weeks now and each time I find something new — something I hadn't heard before — in the music. This is a very good thing. Depth and subtlety are qualities all too uncommon today when so many "acoustic" bands hit you over the head with wild-eyed energy but little else. I'll resist naming names, but you know who they are.

But back to Frankie and Kim Basile and the 3rd Brother, mandolinist Mike Hoffmann — or is he the second brother, Kim being of the female persuasion? (They really need to straighten this out for the perplexed among us.) Anyway, the three have done a very difficult and pleasing thing with this CD: Using voices (Frankie and Kim) and string instruments (all three), the LBs have recorded a variety of American foundational (I hate the term "roots," don't you?) music in a surprisingly creative manner.

Let me give an example. The first track, "Loose Like That" (one of the numerous offspring of Tampa Red and Georgia Tom's single-entendre hit of a similar name) sounds here like the Skillet-Lickers-play-Dixieland. The mandolin plays the melodic cornet part while Kim's fiddle is the New Orleans clarinet. The Hokum/J...
November 17, 2011, 06:40:52 PM by Slack
Views: 1863 | Comments: 0

Lay Down My Burden - Grant Dermody
Written by Simon Field
Lay Down My Burden - Grant Dermody

Cards on the table. This is only the second harmonica album I have ever bought. That said, calling it a Harmonica album doesn't do it justice or properly describe it. This is a country blues album, with a huge cast of fantastic musicians, in which the focal point happens to be a fine harp player and singer. There's barely a shuffle in sight, and you certainly won't find any 72 bar harp solos.

Crucially (and perhaps unusually) Grant Dermody's harp never dominates the songs here; it serves them tastefully. Perfectly even. Its all about the songs.

Back to the huge cast- the CD kicks off with Eric Bibb on guitar, delivering a subtle finger picked rendition of Gary Davis' I'll Be Alright to accompany Grant's gentle vocal and laid back harp.

Amazing Grace is a standard (and perhaps a cliché) but hits the right spot. Full of atmosphere but somehow unsentimental, the track features Orville Johnson's unique dobro sound, partnered with lap steel and held together by John Miller's acoustic guitar. The smooth beginnings grow into an unexpected crescendo and a good deal of life is breathed into what is a very familiar old hymn.

John Cephas' last recording, a rendition of Hard Time Killing Floor, sees Grant take a back seat to ...
November 17, 2011, 06:36:10 PM by Slack
Views: 1834 | Comments: 0

Shake Your Wicked Knees - Rent Parties And Good Times
Written by John Miller
Shake Your Wicked Knees - Rent Parties And Good Times, Yazoo 2035

I recently found this CD, which is sub-headed "Classic Piano Rags, Blues & Stomps 1928-43", on sale, and I'm so glad I picked it up, for it is superlatively good.  It is one of the series of CDs of Blues piano music that Yazoo has released that were produced (which in this instance, I assume, means the cuts were selected and sequenced) by the English record collector Francis Wilford-Smith.  Other CDs in this series include one devoted to Roosevelt Sykes and Lee Green (reviewed elsewhere in this section), one focusing on Charlie Spand, and two devoted to the Blues piano stylists of St. Louis in the pre-War era.  Francis Smith's knowledge of this material must be encyclopedic, for I had the feeling as I listened to the program that I was hearing the very best that the various artists had to offer.

A couple of extra-musical impressions began to develop as I listened repeatedly to this CD.  One is that in the context of a rent party, a pianist's musical skills must have been taken as a given; just as important, though, must have been the ability to entertain, to act that host, engage in banter with the guests and maintain a stream of humorous woofing going along with the music.  Not an easy job description!  A high percen...
November 17, 2011, 06:35:25 PM by Slack
Views: 2273 | Comments: 2

Robert Nighthawk - Prowling with the Nighthawk
Written by John Miller

Robert Nighthawk - Prowling with the Nighthawk, Document DOCD-32-20-6       

I recently picked up this re-release of an earlier Document CD, and have been pleased with what an excellent job Document has done with the re-issue.  The program is generous, with 26 performances by Robert Nighthawk, recorded in the years 1937--1952 for six different record labels, and in a variety of ensemble settings.  The notes accompanying the CD share a wealth of biographical and discographical information on Robert Nighthawk, and I refer interested parties to them for that kind of information.  I will confine the discussion here to his music.

The earliest recordings presented here feature Robert Nighthawk working with Big Joe Williams seconding him on guitar and on several tracks, Sonny Boy Williamson 1 (John Lee Williamson) on harmonica.  With two exceptions, "Don't Mistreat Your Woman" and "G-Man", for which Nighthawk played slide in Vastapol, these cuts find Nighthawk flat-picking out of G position in standard tuning, while Big Joe and Sonny Boy riff more or less non-stop.  It is not what you would call a nifty sound, and there doesn't appear to have been a notable amount of listening going on between the players but it is strongly played and forcefully expressed.  Apropos of this, I congratulate Doc...
November 17, 2011, 06:34:24 PM by Slack
Views: 1593 | Comments: 2

The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
Written by John Miller

The Persistence of Pre-Blues Material
I have been thinking about pre-Blues material for a long time (years and years) and figured out a long time ago that I particularly like it.  I suppose the question comes up then, what makes a song pre-Blues, as opposed to Blues?  I think two chordal/harmonic characteristics most strongly define pre-Blues songs:

   * Absence of the "blue" IV chord.  Blues have a dominant 7 chord with a flat 7 note relative to the IV chord of the scale.  Pre-Blues material has either a straight major triad for the IV chord or a telescoped major 7 chord off of the IV note of the scale.

   * Absence of the "blue" I chord.  Blues most often have a dominant 7 chord (major triad with a flat 7) off of the I chord of the scale.  Pre-Blues material has a straight major triad off of I, or, as with the IV chord, a telescoped major 7 chord.

What separates Blues chordally from the various western musics that preceded it, is that it has dominant 7 chords off of I, IV and V.  Neither the major scale nor any of the Greek modes conforms to this chordal configuration.  As a result, Blues has both a structure and a sound that does not have commonly known precedents prior to its appearance. Blues is most often described by persons living at the time as having first made an a...
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