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Boys it's alright to be poor, but it's so unconvenient nowadays - Dr Clayton, Walking With The Blues

Author Topic: Robert Pete Williams, vol. 2 "When A Man Takes the Blues" Arhoolie CD 395  (Read 2333 times)

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Offline Johnm

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PROGRAM:? When A Man Takes The Blues; I Had Trouble; All Night Long; Dyin' Soul; I Got The Blues So Bad; Sinner Don't You Know; Hot Springs Blues; This Train Is Heaven Bound; Santa Fe Blues; Blue In Me; Death Come Creepin' In Your Room; Wife And Farm Blues; I Want To Die Easy; Robert Pete Williams Monologue

"The blueses follows me.? I hears the echo in the atmosphere, kind of moaning or humming, like.? Well, uh, I can come back and take my guitar and I can put them blues together and pick 'em."?

So begins a monologue by Robert Pete Williams on this CD.? As an explanation of the source of inspiration for his music, it gives an idea of at what remove his music lies from the blues as they are normally heard, played, and understood.? This CD, the second in Arhoolie's catalog devoted exclusively to Robert Pete, is a powerful document of his life in music.? Of the 14 tracks on the CD, a full ten were previously unreleased, and it makes you wonder how much unreleased Robert Pete music is sitting out there.? The music on this CD is simultaneously very much of a piece with that available on other releases of Robert Pete . . . and different, because Robert Pete was always different, even from himself.

The program opens with "When A Man Takes The Blues", in A minor standard tuning, in which Robert Pete gets off some nifty turns of phrase--"I'm a traveling man, I ain't got no certain place to go.".? "I Had Trouble", in E standard, is a particularly scary song, in which Robert Pete recounts an instance in which he followed a woman home, feeling the whole thing was not right.? The combination of the words, the way they are sung and the accompaniment make this one of the spookiest blues I've ever heard.? "All Night Long", also in E standard, starts with an oddly disjointed rhythmic figure and eventually works its way up into an intense groove.? "Dyin' Soul" is a beautiful religious number played in Open G, with slides reminiscent to those that Furry Lewis used in "I Will Turn Your Money Green".? Robert Pete uses Open G more on this program than on other CDs of him that I have heard.? He also uses it for "I Got The Blues So Bad" (tuned very low), "Sinner, Don't You Know", and "I Want To Die Easy", on which he is joined by an unnamed washboard player.? On "Hot Springs Blues", subtitled "Peetie Wheatstraw Blues", Robert Pete, playing in dropped D, is joined by an unnamed second guitarist (Alan Wilson? Henry Kaiser?).? "This Train Is Heaven Bound" and "Death Come Creepin' In Your Room" are both played in E standard, and "Death" has some of the feel that Robert Pete speaks of in the opening of his monologue, for you can hear birds and insects singing and the wind soughing in the trees as he sings it.? "Santa Fe Blues", in D standard, has a more chordal sound than I'm accustomed to hearing from him.? "Blue In Me" is funky, funky, funky, in A standard.? On "Wife and Farm Blues", Robert Pete is joined by the merciless spoken asides of Sallie Dotsin(?), who keeps a running commentary with a lot of mirthless humor going while Robert Pete sings the song, basically giving him a raft of shit, which he pretty much takes in stride.?

The monologue that concludes the CD's program is tremendous, and covers a hell of a lot of ground.? In it, Robert Pete talks about how he first came to play guitar, how he played at country suppers, how jealousy caused his wife to burn his guitar, and how he ended up in the situation that resulted in him killing a man.? Thanks to Chris Strachwitz for always putting spoken tracks of the bluesmen he recorded on their CDs.? Hearing people speak and the turns of phrase that they use make possible a feeling of connection with who they were that music alone could not supply.

Throughout the program, Robert Pete's vocals have the kind of chanting, incantatory sound I have come to associate with his sound.? His guitar-work, as usual, is perfectly amazing.? His capacity for going for things in the moment that he has obviously never played before should stand as an inspiration to us all.? His willingness and desire to vary his phrasing as he goes is very exciting, too, for it has the effect of constantly making his music feel like it is in the present, happening this very instant.? This is music for the ages--come to it now or when you're ready for it, but it is a Big Statement that is out there, waiting for you.
All best,
Johnm?
« Last Edit: October 27, 2005, 12:49:53 AM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Robert Pete Williams, vol. 2 "When A Man Takes the Blues" Arhoolie CD 395
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2004, 08:39:00 PM »
Thanks for the great review, John. Robert Pete was an acquired taste for me but I enjoy him more and more now. I agree too about the admirable habit of putting spoken tracks on the discs. It's always fascinating to hear the players speak, having never met most of them myself. 

Offline lindy

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Re: Robert Pete Williams, vol. 2 "When A Man Takes the Blues" Arhoolie CD 395
« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2004, 09:23:05 AM »
JohnM--

When "Poor Bob's Blues" came out last April, I spent almost a month listening to nothing else but the 5 Robert Pete CD's that I own. Then I took out the tape of your mini-class on his music at PT2003 and spent 2-3 weeks working on the tunings and patterns you showed, with the goal being two songs of his that still make me stop whatever I'm doing to sit down with my ear a few inches from my speakers: "Just Tippin' In" and "Free Again." The latter is the funkiest thing I've ever heard one player do on an acoustic guitar.  One thing I discovered is that the way I usually hold my body when I play simply won't work if I'm ever going to get close to his sound.  Usually I'm all tensed up and a little scrunched over as I try to get some intricate Blake lick or Fuller phrase or Gary Davis song that requires a sportin' right hand.  I've slowly learned to relax and move my shoulders, my head, and even my hips as I've practiced "Boogie Woogie Rag" by Smokey Babe, Belfour's version of Black Mattie, and various R.L. Burnside licks, but for Robert Pete I have to really get loose, shake out my right hand and arm and relax in order to try and get that funky sound.  It reminds me of what Satchel Paige used to say as one of his ten rules for staying young--"Jangle around gently as you move to keep the juices flowing."  I'm gearing up for another go at those two tunes when I return to New Orleans next week, wish me luck.

Lindy

Offline Johnm

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Re: Robert Pete Williams, vol. 2 "When A Man Takes the Blues" Arhoolie CD 395
« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2004, 09:59:14 AM »
Hi Lindy,
Best of luck in your work on those tunes, and I think your notion of loosening up and moving the entire body as you play Smokey Babe, Belfour, Williams, et al is a sound one.  I think a loose center of gravity is particularly important, because you are right, you can not play this stuff with a clenched diaphragm and mid-section.  I didn't talk about it in the review, but after extensive listening, I think one of the reasons Robert Pete was able to play as loosely as he did and get such great inflections on his bends, in particular, was that he was free-handing everything.  This is in contrast to almost all other Country Blues guitarists in my experience, who tend to hold down at least a short-hand version of a chord and then play runs, perform hammers or slides, and play the remaining melodic material with whatever fingers they have left over.
Robert Pete, on the other hand, almost never holds down even a minimal version of the chord formation of whatever key he is playing in--instead he frets the particular notes he wants for a melodic idea and lets the chips fall where they may in terms of how open strings harmonize or clash with his melodic ideas.  He is able to inflect his bends with such a tremendous degree of nicety because when he is doing bends, that is the only thing he is doing with his left hand--he is not also holding down a chord.  I know it is much easier to describe than it is to do, but when you hear his results, it definitely is worth the effort to try and get something like that going.  Let me know how it goes!
All best,
Johnm

Offline uncle bud

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On "Wife and Farm Blues", Robert Pete is joined by the merciless spoken asides of Sallie Dotsin(?), who keeps a running commentary with a lot of mirthless humor going while Robert Pete sings the song, basically giving him a raft of shit, which he pretty much takes in stride. 

Digging this up because I just caught "Wife and Farm Blues" on the Juke. What a hoot. Sallie Dotsin is brilliant on it. Robert Pete is no slouch either.  ;)

Offline Johnm

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Hi Andrew,
I know what you mean about Sally Dotsin--she was a pistol!  She is also featured to great advantage on "Your Dice Won't Pass", a great song whe did with Smokey Babe on the "Country Negro Jam Session" album on Arhoolie, which can be found on the Juke.
All best,
Johnm

 


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