Thursday, June 12, 2008

Some Brief Blues CD & DVD Reviews From My Account

2.0 out of 5 stars Buy "Midnight Rambler" Instead!

Despite the addition of Lefty Dizz as a second guitarist, which, given Louisiana Red's limited abilities on the instrument, one would think would be a positive, the lyrical content and intensity that is present on many of the songs on "Midnight Rambler" is largely absent here. However, "Too Poor To Die" and "Cold White Sheet" are great. As a side note, do not see Red perform live as he is elderly and not in the best of shape. It's better to remember him as the great storyteller he was on "Midnight Rambler" than to tarnish his image.

1.0 out of 5 stars Very Uninspired

Despite the great Johnny Shines playing guitar on this album, and Sunnyland Slim's reputation as a great pianist, only "Stepmother" and "Stella Mae" stand out on this disc. There isn't much else to say about this album. There is a reason that it is very difficult to find. "Thoroughly boring" are the only words which come to mind. These guys must have been having an off day.

1.0 out of 5 stars Horrible Blues Album

Firstly, I'm a huge fan of Eddie Taylor. I love his work with Jimmy Reed and I have his "I Feel So Bad" album. The problem with this disc is not the guitar work, but the lazy vocals, and absence of lyrics. Throughout the entire album, Taylor unsuccessfully improvises lyrics that do not rhyme. Sometimes, when the response (as in the Call & Response lyrical format of the Blues) is supposed to be given, Taylor just mumbles something incoherently. Did he regularly perform like this in a live setting? The "I Feel So Bad" album has some great lyrics, so I'm a bit confused by this release. Though I disagree completely with the other reviewer, I'd like if it he/she could address my questions about the terrible lack of lyrical originality on this album.

5.0 out of 5 stars One Of The Greatest Post-War Country Blues Recordings

This album is one of the greatest post-World War II Country Blues recordings. There is not a bad track on this cd. Furry's version of "John Henry" is the definitive take on the hundred-plus year old song. There is a beautiful echo present on this cd that I haven't heard on any other disc. The slide playing is impeccable and the lyrics are of great meaning. This album, "The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson", and the JSP Blind Willie McTell box set are three of the best items a Blues fan can buy.

5.0 out of 5 stars Nearly Perfect

This dvd is nearly perfect. Firstly, I'll state the few complaints I have: the audio quality was especially poor during Johnny Shines' performances and two of Jesse Fuller's pieces were filler. Aside from these minor imperfections, this dvd is an excellent historical and musical item. The Son House performances are full of magnificent power, Jesse Fuller's "Johny Henry" is an epic that falls short only of Furry's version on his "Shake 'Em On Down" album and Pink Anderson's version, Mississippi Fred McDowell is in excellent form, although he's even better on the Yazoo dvd with Big Joe Williams, Furry Lewis plays a little sloppily and probably should have been given time for another song, Johnny Shines dazzles us with his original lyrics and incredibly powerful voice, and Mance Lipscomb plays better than he does on his "In Concert" dvd. If you are a fan of the Country Blues, you should buy this right now!

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Album, Excellent Sound Quality

Despite what the other reviewer says, the sound quality on this album is excellent, considering how the original records came out in 1931 on Paramount Records, which was notorious for producing records with horrendous sound quality. This is the cleanest I've ever heard the 1931 recordings sound. The liner notes are also well written and the photographs of Skip are nice. This is one of the essential Blues discs one can buy. If you enjoy this, also check out JSP's four cd Blind Willie McTell box set (available for under thirty dollars), The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson, and Yazoo's Blind Lemon Jefferson disc, The Best of Blind Lemon Jefferson.

3.0 out of 5 stars Good Effort By Sunnyland Slim

I'm not sure why the other reviewer gave this album five stars, as it is not the best of Sunnyland's work. The stand-out tracks are "The Devil Is A Busy Man", "Harlem Can't Be Heaven" and "Decoration Day". Tracks like "Sunnyland Special", a remake of one of his famous tunes, are just sort of there, and don't make much of a statement. I recommend Blues fans seek out Roosevelt Sykes, as he's probably the greatest pianist in Blues, and also has an excellent voice and gift for lyrics.

3.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Bag

This is a collection of all known video footage of Reverend Gary Davis. I feel that the performances for the Seattle Folklore Society and the two songs which follow it immediately after (the only footage in color) are worth the price of the dvd alone. The only drawback to the dvd is that the first half of it has Davis extending songs' lengths to the extent that they aren't merely songs, but more like opera performances in terms of their duration. To musicians, this is probably a positive, because they get to see Davis' finger work quite a bit. However, for people who are merely fans of the music and not musicians, or for those who don't know anything about acoustic Blues and Gospel music and are seeing and hearing this for the first time, sitting through a ten minute (or maybe longer) version of "Children of Zion" can be a bit difficult. Pete Seeger seems to feel the same way during the performance! In the end, I think this is definitely a dvd worth purchasing. It's put out by Stefan Grossman, just like the very good Mance Lipscomb- In Concert dvd. I'm really curious to read what everyone has to say about this dvd.

4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Blues And Pre-Blues Music DVD

The Mance Lipscomb songs, especially "Sugar Babe" and "Ella Speed", are the highlights of this dvd. Lightnin' Hopkins set is very good until the last two songs, which are just mediocre Lightnin'. Sometimes the man produced great recordings; most of his stuff from the late 1940s and early 1950s is great. His Blues Revival-era stuff, which is when this footage is from, is a mixed bag. This dvd originally came out in 1991 according to the copyright at the end of the program, but it seems as if the sound hasn't been touched up very well. This may be due to limitations based on the way these performances were recorded. There's really no need to have Taj Mahal host the dvd if he's just going to read off of cue cards or a teleprompter. At any rate, this is a very good Blues and Pre-Blues music dvd that is certainly worth owning.

2.0 out of 5 stars Far From The Best Piano Blues

This album is far from the best that piano-oriented Blues has to offer. Mercy Dee Walton plays very similarly on every track, as does his harmonica player. The songs that are keepers are "After The Fight", "Have You Ever Been Out In The Country", "One Room Country Shack", which is the song the man is famous for, and "Shady Lane", which has some great lyrics. The rest of the songs are nothing special, and are even semi-irritating. Any album by Roosevelt Sykes would suit a piano Blues-hungry listener better.

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Johnny Shines Album; It May Be His Best

This album and "Standing At The Crossroads" are Johnny Shines' two best works. I'm not sure why his work with Walter Horton is considered to be better than his solo efforts. On Shines' solo outings, his vocals are much stronger, his lyrics are more developed, and his guitar playing is superb. This particular album really shows off his vocal power. You might find yourself backing away from your speaker in order to not bust an eardrum. The two versions of "Mean Black Gobbler" are great! I'm not a musician, but it sounds like one of the versions of the song is performed in a Hill Country fashion. In other words, the guitar accompaniment sounds closer to Hill Country Blues or perhaps just diddley bow playing than it does to the typical Johnny Shines or Robert Johnson guitar work. "Back To The Steel Mill" is simply ferocious. The second guitarist on this album works very well with Johnny. It's a shame that this album isn't better known, and that it keeps going out of print. I waited over two years to purchase this, and it was most definitely worth the wait. The packaging is also very nice. You certainly can't go wrong with any of Johnny's albums.

3.0 out of 5 stars Good Album Of Delta Blues

This album deserves three and a half stars. There are a lot better Country Blues albums out there, but there is nothing bad about this one. The album suffers a little bit from songs sounding too alike. I like how many Charley Patton songs were performed very well. I could have done without hearing "Terraplane Blues" for the 10,000th time. Nobody can play it like Robert Johnson, save Johnny Shines. Part of the appeal of this album is Big Joe Williams' 9 string guitar. While I disagree with the reviewer who gave this album five stars, I'm not questioning his taste. This is a solid effort from Williams.

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Country Blues DVD

This is an excellent dvd. Big Joe Williams and Fred McDowell could not be more different when it comes to their styles. Williams cuts many of his songs short in order to fit as much music as possible into his set. McDowell, on the other hand, lets the songs develop more. This gives us a feel for what seeing these men live in concert must have been like. To the other reviewer- your imagination is running wild. Fred McDowell's performance here has nothing to do with race. The fact that this performance was recorded during the height of the Civil Rights movement by white cameramen is totally superfluous. McDowell does not seemed threatened at all by anyone of any color during his performance. "Different ethnic setting"? You must be joking. Blacks have been in this country longer than most whites. The setting McDowell was performing in was not alien to him at all. Since his "discovery" by Lomax, he had played for many whites. Furthermore, McDowell is not a Delta musician. He is from the Mississippi Hill Country, and his style is different than Delta muscians'. The other dvd you're suggesting, "Deep Blues", features some truly lousy "Blues" music, except for Lonnie Pitchford's excellent performance towards the end of the dvd. "Deep Blues" shows us that almost all of the great Bluesmen were gone by the early 1990s, when the dvd was made. I can tell that you are someone who isn't able to distinguish between good Blues and "Blues". Your five star review of the "Blues Story" dvd also hammers this point home. Your comment about Big Joe Williams being "raw" and the naked remark show that you are looking upon him as a "Negro savage", which is insulting, especially considering how you're trying to champion McDowell's conquest of racism earlier in your review.

1.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Lousy

First of all, let it be said that Buddy Guy is an electric Blues guitarist, and not a pre-War "Country Blues" artist. His guitar playing on the Skip James track really shows that Buddy was simply clowning around at these sessions and is also very limited on an acoustic guitar. The subtleties and nuances that Skip James provided us with in the song, on both the 1931 recording and on later versions, is totally missing from the Buddy Guy version. Johnny Shines, who is one of the greatest Bluesmen of the second half of the 20th century, has a song on this album that is covered by Buddy Guy, according to the liner notes from this album. The only problem is that the Buddy Guy track doesn't resemble the Shines version in any way. The music and lyrics are totally different. Every song on this album lacks the vitality and musical sophistication of the respective originals. People who claim to be Blues fans and rank this album very high are obviously doing so only because they are huge Buddy Guy fans. I enjoy Buddy Guy's Chess recordings and also some of the stuff he did during his comeback almost 20 years ago, but this album is just plain awful. If you want to hear some good acoustic Blues music, I strongly recommend Johnny Shines' "Standing at the Crossroads", "The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson" or Furry Lewis' "Shake 'Em On Down". Those recordings are three of the best examples of excellent Blues music.

1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible

This album is simply lousy and boring. It's one of the worst Blues albums I've ever heard, and I've heard hundreds. The guitar playing is unoriginal, the vocals are below average, and the same lyrics are constantly repeated. Surely Charity could have come up with a few more verses for each song. There are some Blind Boy Fuller songs covered by Charity, but they look truly poor compared to the originals. If you're interested in discs available from Trix Records, I suggest you buy the Henry Johnson disc, as he was the best artist recorded by the label. Avoid the "The Virginian" album.

1.0 out of 5 stars Horrendous

This is the worst Blues DVD I've ever seen. Many essential points to understanding the history of the Blues are missed: Mamie Smith recording the first Black vocal song with the word "Blues" that became a huge hit ("Crazy Blues"), the subsequent popularity of Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson becoming the first male Blues star in the Race Records industry, the birth of electric Blues that was necessary when blacks moved north and needed to amplify music in order to be heard in huge crowds, the birth of Rock 'N' Roll around 1954, and the Country Blues revival during the early 1960s. Facets of the terrible documentary which should have been taken out were the footage of Kennedy during the Jimmy Witherspoon song, which was simply idiotic and without reason (not to mention the documentary's failure to state that Witherspoon was covering a song Bessie Smith had popularized), the excessive talk of Blues constantly being associated with the struggle for Civil Rights (many Bluesmen's daily activities were not in line at all with morality), the mentioning of the Beatles and Michael Jackson being heavily influenced by Blues (this is plain absurd), and associating Aretha Franklin with Sarah Vaughan (they were separated by three decades). The Muddy Waters footage was terrible, as they selected one of the worst Muddy performances I've ever seen. There was no effort to fix up the sound quality of not just the performances, but also the narrator's statements, despite the DVD coming out in 1993, and then being touched up during the current decade. In addition, Babe Stovall was not a hugely popular performer during the 1920s, as the DVD states. The closing footage of B.B. King is from the early 1960s, so why was it shown after the narrator talked about B.B. being the representative of the Blues in today's world? Also, Sleepy John Estes was not hugely popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and Elmore James died in the 1960s (instead of being a huge star throughout the decade, as the DVD states). From top to bottom, this is the worst Blues documentary ever. For all of you who claim to know about Blues and give this terrible work 5 stars, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Joyous

This music is absolutely joyous! It is thoroughly ancient dance music. I am listening to the album for the first time at this very moment, and I am overwhelmed with emotion. Henry Thomas's voice is perfectly inoffensive and endearing. Whole books can be written on the lyrics he sings and how they crop up in later tunes that would be called "Blues". The quills he plays make his music unlike anything else in all of Americana. His guitar playing can be plain, old, trance-like on the dance tunes, and intricate and glorious on the blues songs. At this exact second, I am listening to "Railroadin' Some," and I must conclude that this is one of the greatest albums I've ever heard in my life.

5.0 out of 5 stars Not His Best, But Extremely Diverse

This is not my favorite Shines record, but it's definitely diverse.
Listening to "The Face in the Courthouse" and then the electric rendition of "Blood Ran Like Wine" reveals Johnny's ability to play totally different types of music. One song is a pre-Blues story song and the other is a modern Blues song, but both have equal feeling and display Johnny's mastery of his instrument, voice, and lyrics. "May I Apologize" is great and "The Devil's Daughter" is impeccable.

5.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent Shines Album

This is another excellent Johnny Shines album. All of the songs are straight-ahead Delta Blues. "Jim String" is my least favorite song on the album, but many Blues fans will surely love it because of its oddness and intense sound. "Glad Rags" and "Pet Rabbit" are particularly interesting as far as lyrics are concerned.

5.0 out of 5 stars Hard To Find Shines Album; Order Used If You Must

The liner notes mention that Johnny was not fully confident when recording this album, but it's a great record. The weakest track is "Baby Don't You Think I Know", which is an average reading of "Sweet Home Chicago". Johnny performed the song much better when he did it live on Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop. More than anything else, Johnny's lyrical originality is evident on this album. His backing band does a good job of playing in a minimalist manner. As previously mentioned, the only song I dislike is "Baby Don't You Think I Know", making this a five-star album.

1 comment:

jennifer said...

hi there,
i can't figure out all the words to johnny shines' "pet rabbit". can you help me? my email is