They can't get any better than this, can they? As the title says, this is "The Definitive Charley Patton." A legend larger than many, a charter member of delta blues pioneers, a raconteur, a country clown, and an extremely popular performer with the record buying public; Charley (or Charlie) Patton was all that and more. This stunning 3-disc set from Catfish, has once and for all, settled the discussion as to what label has put together the crowning Patton set. In complete chronological order, it's an accomplishment stemming from a dedication to setting standards for others to follow, much like Patton himself. Sound quality is simply better than it's ever been... anyone with Charley Patton material will know that some of his titles were difficult to listen to at best. Here, it's a pleasure to get reacquainted with one of the masters, so let's have a look.
Disc one pulls together 20 tracks beginning with "Mississippi Boweavil Blues" and concluding with "Frankie And Albert," and everything sandwiched in between clearly marks Patton as a founder of the delta blues style. His rough vocal approach may take some getting used to, as amply noted in his "Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues," but while he may not have possessed a smooth voice, he got his point across with a rudeness that many others simply did not possess. "Down The Dirt Road Blues," the brilliant "Pony Blues," and Patton's ode to banty roosters are wonderful. "It Won't Be Long" and "Pea Vine Blues" both stand tall, and in the tale of Tom Rushen, Patton sings "it takes boozy booze Lord to carry me through" in his usual fragmented style. Patton liked his vices, as did many of his contemporaries and in "Spoonful Blues," he sings of his penchant for cocaine. The two-part "Prayer Of Death" is a masterpiece as are "Lord I'm Discouraged" and "I'm Goin Home." While Charley may have cut more blues on record than he played to patrons of the jukes he made his living in, it's also clear that there was more on his mind than booze, powder, ponies, and roosters when he visited the recording studios to cut his tracks. Son Sims joins Patton with some sawing on fiddle for more than a couple, and "Going To Move To Alabama" is especially fine, while the tough "Elder Greene Blues" and "Mean Black Cat Blues" are both excellent.
"Some These Days I'll Be Gone" starts disc two and shows Patton's interesting guitar rhythms to good effect. In "When Your Way Gets Dark," Charley makes use of the regional bass string snaps that showed in recordings by Son House, Willie Brown, and others. House and Brown were among a number of delta blues players that Patton ran with, and indeed, traveled with when they recorded for Paramount. "Heart Like Railroad Steel" is moving while "You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die," with the spoken sermon in the middle, is astounding! The two-part "High Water Everywhere" is perhaps the pinnacle of recorded Charley Patton. Its percussive and driving attack is simply amazing with Charley rapping on the guitar and snapping the strings while playing a charging rhythm; he seems to have been at his absolute best for this tandem. Add to these ingredients a first-hand account of the floods that devastated Mississippi in 1927 and it leaves little wonder as to why this is regarded as maybe the finest race record ever made. Charley moves on to the religious side again in "Jesus Is A Dying-Bed Maker" and the incredible "I Shall Not Be Moved."
Disc three opens with "Moon Going Down" with Willie Brown along for some assistance on second guitar, and again on "Bird Nest Bound," both tough delta blues pieces. The smoldering "Jersey Bull Blues" is another gripping performance loaded with changing rhythms and snaps. The engaging feel of "High Sheriff Blues" recalls the 'boozy booze' lyrics, but is not a carbon copy of "Tom Rushen Blues," as has been said before. "Stone Pony Blues" and the riveting "34 Blues" are both clear and crisp with Patton's voice in fine form, as well as on "Love My Stuff." Charley suffered a slashed throat in a juke one night, and though the attack did affect his vocals, he still retained the ferocity of earlier sides. Bertha Lee (Jones) Patton recorded with her husband and is in good form where she appears, but at her best on the final two tracks, "Yellow Bee" and "Mind Reader Blues," both great performances with Patton's wife sounding eerily like Memphis Minnie.
Charley Patton was an innovator, a leader, and one of the first generation of recorded blues artists. While his music was not all blues, Patton managed to express himself beautifully on any subject he sang or talked of. He was dead shortly after his 1934 recording session, surprisingly not from habitual self abuse, but from pneumonia brought on by rheumatic fever. The Catfish label deserves high praise for this in-depth and chronological look at one of the true masters from the delta. Packaging gets a grade of A+ for the informative booklet with pictures and reprints of many of the original label ads, and the separate packets for each disc are handsomely done like vintage 78 sleeves. The sharp-looking foldout cover from a very rare advertisement shows a dapper Patton seated with his guitar. Reproduction quality in the three hours of music is better than ever before, and while every attempt has been made to improve sonics, there are still a few low spots. Patton's records are so incredibly rare, that in some cases, there are titles where less than a few copies are known to exist in the entire world. www.catfishrecords.co.uk will answer any further questions.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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