Elmore James' gutbucket slide guitar first hit the market in 1952 after he waxed "Dust My Broom" for Lillian McMurray's Trumpet label in Jackson, MS. The record scored strongly and launched a career that would last little more than ten years. In those years, James recorded for a number of labels including Meteor, Flair, Checker, and Bobby Robinson's Fire imprint. Buddha Records has been revived by BMG Distribution and this helping of Elmore is a fine 16 track CD culled from the Fire sessions. Robinson first heard James after receiving a copy of the Trumpet 78 at his record store and knew right then that he wanted to record the artist. Years later, when networking in Chicago, Robinson drove past a small lounge with a cardboard sign reading 'Elmore James here tonight!' The rest, as they say, is history.
The disc kicks off with a pair from 1961 recorded in New Orleans. The title track starts as a broken rhythm and settles into a swinging groove and makes way for "Look On Yonder Wall" which features a young Sam Myers throwing in some great harmonica work. Myers' sound remains much the same today as it did 40 years ago; full and strong, with choked verses and brilliant flutters. "The Sky Is Crying," from 1959, is perhaps James' second-best swan song with J.T. Brown assisting on tenor sax, and moves aside for the rough and ragged "Rollin' And Tumblin' " from 1960. The plaintive vocals on "Held My Baby Last Night" are pushed along by Elmore's ringing slide guitar and the twin tenor lines. The next three all come from a New York session in early 1960. "I'm Worried" uses the famous broomdusting guitar hook while "Done Somebody Wrong" stumbles on a steady stop-time groove and is full of more beefed-up slide. A rock solid band ably backs James for these two and "Fine Little Mama."
Robinson put together a larger band for a 1960 or '61 James' session which included both trumpet and two saxes in addition to piano, drums, bass, and second guitar. "Anna Lee" is powerful with Elmore's voice crying out, but the pumping "Stranger Blues" with its jungle rhythm is especially potent. The other two from that studio date are "Standing At The Crossroads" and "Bleeding Heart." The slow drag of "Something Inside Me" is a fine blues with the smaller band laying behind the beat for breathing room as James rips slide phrases from his guitar. "Early One Morning" stomps along with some strong tenor and more dusting from James, and "Sunnyland" is from the 1961 New Orleans date with a stripped-down band. The disc closes out with the updated version of "Dust My Broom" from 1959, cut in Chicago.
Playing time is ample at over 45 minutes, the packaging is top-notch with John Broven's excellent liner notes, and the pictures that grace the sleeves and small booklet are a pleasure. Detailed session information with all known sidemen shed more light on the relatively short career of a slide guitar king, and the names aboard read like a who's who in blues; Homesick James, Odie Payne, Belton Evans, Johnny 'Big Moose' Walker, Little Johnny Jones, Jimmy Spruill, and others. While not breaking any new ground, the 16 tracks along with an inexpensive price tag make this a great way to add to your Elmore James library. For more info head to: http://www.BuddhaRecords.com
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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