Catfish Records from the UK began this series with a fine 24 track disc featuring artists that were part of Paramount's roster in the 1920's and 1930's. The second volume is dedicated to the Columbia label and their success in the 'Race' record market early in the 20th century. It was actually the Okeh label that started the trend with Mamie Smith's recording of "Crazy Blues" from 1920. Columbia had listed 'Negro music' in catalogs as early as 1891 - though these were cylinders - not actual records. With the success at Okeh, the Columbia label followed suit and issued 'classic' Blues (what we call it now) sides by Edith Wilson, Bessie Smith, Mary Stafford, and others, though Columbia first added them to their 'popular' series.
The major players in this volume are Barbecue Bob, Blind Willie Johnson, Bessie Smith, Oak Cliff T-Bone, Blind Willie McTell, and others of perhaps a little less stature when measured by the names just mentioned. Pink Anderson starts off this 23 cut disc with the relaxed Carolina feel of "Every Day In The Week Blues" and is followed by the Georgia Cotton Pickers doing "She Looks So Good," with its strong hokum style. Atlanta's Barbecue Bob, a popular 12 string guitarist, adds "Goin' Up The Country" and starts a powerful succession of tracks that is mind numbing. Washington Phillips, from Texas, contributes the two-part "Denomination Blues" which is a welcome addition from a seldom heard artist who played the Dolceola, heard even less. The cut is relaxed while showing heavy gospel and religious roots and Phillips' voice is a pleasure. Another Atlanta picker, Peg Leg Howell, is lowdown with his "New Prison Blues," and uses yet another "...goin' up the country" line to good effect.
Blind Willie Johnson can startle those unfamiliar with his music, while even the seasoned listener is still totally captivated by the absolute power and fury in his "I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole." Johnson's voice is best described as that of the earth itself and his use of slide guitar to finish vocal passages is nothing short of amazing. One of the most popular Georgia Blues artists was Blind Willie McTell and his ragtime-like "Razor Ball" is packed with some great 12 string guitar work and comical lyrics. Charley Lincoln and Curley Weaver leave "Country Breakdown" and "Sweet Petrina" respectively, although Weaver's tune actually sounds more like "Sweet Petunia." Aaron Walker, better known as T-Bone Walker, first recorded as Oak Cliff T-Bone in 1929 and his "Trinity River Blues," is included here. A far cry from his later work, it's still more than just interesting to hear his earliest recording date. Henry Townsend is stunning in "Henry's Worry Blues" with a repetitive guitar figure that adds considerable depth to the track. Bessie Smith, the hugely popular singer who acted in film as well, is chilling with her "Backwater Blues," a close look at the turmoil and upset caused by the frequent Mississippi floods.
Ed Bell, Alec Johnson, Kansas Joe (one of a few husbands of Memphis Minnie), Whistlin' Alex Moore, and others fill out this disc with strong performances. As with the first volume, playing time is generous over the 23 tracks, excellent notes by Dave Moore make for good reading while listening, the variation in styles and views are compelling, and another period cover is very pleasing to the eye. Available at a very reasonable price from the label itself or your favorite online retailer, Catfish has once again produced a disc of great value and quality. The third volume in this series focuses on the stable of artists who recorded for the Okeh label. Info is easy to find at www.catfishrecords.co.uk and you can see the rest of their fine selections, look at news, drop them an email, and order what you want. Enjoy!
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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