Down Home Blues Classics

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Down Home Blues Classics

Postby blueswriter » Wed Jun 01, 2005 12:38 am

[updated:LAST EDITED ON May-31-05 AT 09:45 PM (EST)]Various Artists
Down Home Blues Classics
Chicago 1946-1954

Boulevard Vintage (2005) BVBCD1014

http://www.secretrecordslimited.com/ima ... 00x200.jpg

4 CDs, 100 tracks. 286 minutes. Absolutely essential. For those helplessly stuck and hopelessly consumed by the immediate Post-war Chicago Blues years, this new, handsomely boxed four-disc set from Boulevard Vintage will become a staple of life, and an item you just may ask to have lodged in your hands when a family member lays you to rest. Clocking in at four hours and forty-six minutes this is a wonderful and extremely important assortment of the cream of Chicago's blues masters - many immediately recognized by the mention of a name - and others whose songs garnered more notice than the people who recorded this timeless material. While most of the 100 tracks present have been issued previously on CD, and even considering the overlap with the recently-reviewed Chicago Is Just That Way set (JSP 7744), this is still an essential purchase. With JSP's recent box focusing most of its attention on artists who left the South before World War II (a good number of them having recorded in the Pre-war years), Down Home Blues Classics - Chicago 1946-1954 casts a bright and defining light on many who were relative newcomers to life in the ever-growing Illinois metropolis.

Disc one's 25 gems are many with a fair portion of cuts not overly familiar on CD. A pair from Tony Hollins (a major influence on John Lee Hooker) are both solid (Wine O Woman/I'll Get A Break), three J.B. Hutto classics (Dim Lights/Now She's Gone/Loving You), Lee Brown's Bobby Town Boogie and its flip-side Round About Boogie, which was Jimmy Rogers' first recording and the only one showcasing him playing firm and forceful Chicago harp (refer to Scott Dirks' informative article in the archives section for more on this pairing). Other highlights are the little-known and seldom heard It'll Plumb Get It from Morris Pejoe with slicing guitar work well to the fore, I Had A Dream from Lazy Bill Lucas with humorous lyrics about being prodded by Lucifer's pitchfork before being roasted in an oven for dinner. Two diamonds from Willie Nix; Nervous Wreck and his masterful Just Can't Stay, both featuring Snooky Pryor's gruff harp and Eddie Taylor's guitar providing riveting and repetitive figures based on the more well-known Catfish theme. Add Little Wille Foster, Tampa Red (as Jimmy Eager), Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Young, J.B. Lenoir and others to the mix and it gives you a better idea of what follows.

The second disc features plenty more in the way of top-shelf blues and boogie from these Chicago monsters. Fishing Blues from Tony Hollins is fine with some crafty guitar, plaintive vocals, and solid piano from Sunnyland Slim, but it's Hollins' lyrics which are most surprising since he's hoping to catch either a buffalo or trout with his pole and tackle. Four Day Jump (more likely a mistitled 'Fore Day Jump) from the Parrot vaults delivers Little Willie Foster's tough South Side harp with Lazy Bill Lucas supplying driving piano, while J.B. Hutto's Things Are So Slow and Pet Cream Man, both with Earring George Mayweather's rasp-edged harmonica sailing around Hutto's impassioned vocals, are killers of the highest order. Homesick James certainly runs near the top of the list for over-amplified guitar players and it's a safe bet that following his driving versions of Farmer's Blues and Woman I'm Loving that his small amp melted from exertion and excessive heat. Johnny Young and Johnny Williams team up for Worried Man Blues, Baby Face Leroy's stellar Lou Ella has some distinct Robert Lockwood guitar figures, and Morris Pejoe makes his presence fully known (again) on Can't Get Along with the ultra-gritty and slashing guitar break. More from Lazy Bill Lucas, Floyd Jones, Willie Nix, Lee Brown, J.B. Lenoir, Sunnyland Slim, and Muddy Waters.

Disc three shows no signs of slowing down with John Brim's Tough Times kicking things into gear, and with backing from Jimmy Reed's rugged harp and guitar from Eddie Taylor, Brim's vocals get tight and driving support. More rarities arise with Jimmy Reed's I Found My Baby (which may have drumming supplied by Albert King) and King's own passionate Bad Luck Blues is superb Chicago Blues. Sunnyland Slim's It's All Over Now and Back To Korea Blues find the hard-working pianist getting full support from Snooky Pryor and Baby Face Leroy, and Robert Lockwood's 1951 recording of Dust My Broom features sparkling Lockwood guitar with bomb-dropping percussion from Alfred "Fat Man" Wallace propelling things in straight ahead fashion. Muddy Waters blows through an updated Baby Please Don't Go with Turn The Lamp Down Low and Little Walter's harp here is at its muscular and distorted best, just as it is on Walter's own highly-charged instrumental, Don't Have To Hunt No More. A major surprise comes from Essie Sykes, whose Easy Walkin' Papa seems to have immediately followed a Regal session for Roosevelt Sykes in 1951, and while Roosevelt's piano was never that of a slouch, his fine efforts (and those of the singer) are somewhat overshadowed by Robert Nighthawk's gutter-drenched guitar. Grace Brim, Snooky Pryor, Tampa Red, Johnny Young, Junior Wells, and Johnny Shines also garner plenty of space on some serious attention-drawing numbers.

The fourth and final disc in the set begins with a rousing instrumental, Jimmie's Boogie with the harp-huffing Jimmy Reed sounding far more excited and awake in comparison to his later outings, but the true kings of harmonica step forward as well; Little Walter's sympathetic backing in John Brim's Rattlesnake remains as fresh for its creative brilliance as it does tough from the over-amplified distortion. Junior Wells also shows up proving that Walter and Snooky Pryor (among the harp blowers included) had more competition. Eagle Rock dates from 1953 and is a fierce instrumental with Wells joined by Elmore James, Dave and Louis Myers, in addition to S.P. Leary's crisp drumming, and Wells features powerfully on Who's Gonna Be Your Sweet Man from Muddy Waters. Big Walter Horton, a magnificent and criminally under-recorded artist, and a deeply talented harp man joins Tampa Red for the slow Big Stars Falling. Essie Sykes returns with Please Don't Say Goodbye, Jimmy Rogers has a solid pair of Chicago classics in Out On The Road and Left Me With A Broken Heart, and Big Boy Spires hands in Murmur Low plus One Of These Days, both gems that display how the strong Delta influence continued to resonate in Chicago Blues into the 1950s.

As mentioned, there is some overlap with JSP's newly issued set, but there's more than enough here to make this an essential item and a wonderful companion. Sound quality and mastering are both first rate, session information lists all known sidemen, and the packaging is simply superb. Paul "Sailor" Vernon deserves kudos for his masterful efforts in compiling a number of rarely heard tracks, and in some cases, tracks that haven't been reissued until now, along with noted classics from a selection of Windy City luminaries, and his finely-written liner notes go into good detail on the wide variety of labels that initially placed these recordings on the market. There is a downside - Boulevard Vintage (Secret Records) recently went through a "reorganization" process - the result has been a very limited distribution of their catalog. This, along with other recently-issued titles under the Boulevard/Secret banner, will not be easily available and may only show up in a very small handful of specialty lists, but this is easily one of the finest Post-war Chicago Blues gatherings among the many seen by collectors in recent memory.

Available from Roots & Rhythm: http://www.rootsandrhythm.com/roots/New ... tm#VARIOUS
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RE: Down Home Blues Classics

Postby bosco » Tue Jun 14, 2005 1:28 am

[updated:LAST EDITED ON Jun-13-05 AT 09:29 PM (EST)]Excellent review as always B-dub, just when you think nobody is reading these...

This sounds like a must have. I have a plethora of contemporary harp recordings and think I need more vintage material, this could be just the ticket.

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RE: Down Home Blues Classics

Postby david » Tue Jun 14, 2005 3:56 am

BDub, you cost me a fortune! I just ordered this one and then noticed that the same outfit has the very early recordings of Johnny Winter. Any idea how those rate?
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RE: Down Home Blues Classics

Postby blueswriter » Tue Jun 14, 2005 10:44 am

Thanks for reading and commenting guys. As for the early Johnny Winter material, I haven't seen it listed on the Secret Records pages but assume it's the stuff he recorded for Huey Meaux well before signing his first big label deal. I can't say I have all of it although what I do have is very interesting. It's not as heavy-handed in terms of how we usually think of Johnny Winter today; no lengthy guitar solos and all that, but it's great to hear his early sides in comparison to what he became over time.

Bosco... there's plenty of tough harp on the Chicago box set - I doubt you'll be disappointed at all.
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