This one's a winner no matter how you slice it. 2 CD's of Elmore James and his brutal, in-your-face slide guitar, coupled with a squawking voice that always cut right to the chase, there's no way this could lose. Compiled from various sessions that included sidemen like J.T. Brown honking on tenor sax, Eddie Taylor and his muscular guitar chops, Johnny Jones, who had the incredible ability to play the perfect fills on the piano at the perfect time, and the skills of various drummers dropping rhythms left and right for everyone to work off of, this is 36 tracks of Elmore and some of his finest sides.
The track listing is a virtual lesson in guitar playing. Whether it's slide or not, the licks that blaze out of the speakers beat you into submission from the outset. It includes the classic sides most are familiar with; "It Hurts Me Too," "Dust My Broom," "The Sky Is Crying," the title track, and more, but it's some of the lesser known cuts that will astound some. "The Twelve Year Old Boy" includes one of the most violent lead guitar parts ever waxed, bar none (and who it is remains a mystery). If you've never had the pleasure of hearing this one, do yourself a favor and find it. It rides the edge of complete insanity from the opening notes to the last and the tone is something to marvel at. "Knocking At Your Door" with its strangled and shuffling rhythm also includes some absolutely brilliant guitar work. The drunk and stumbling feel of "Take Me Where You Go" is a clinic in drumming (S.P. Leary I think) and the early versions of "Done Somebody Wrong" and "One Way Out" which were covered so capably in the hands of Duane Allman and his compadres, among others, are just plain fun.
"Elmore's Contribution To Jazz" is actually anything but what the title suggests; instead, it's pure slide guitar mayhem that's held together thanks to the men behind James. "Rollin' And Tumblin' " is the track that gives this 2 disc set its title and it's a smoldering repetitive rhythm featuring some fine, in-the-alley guitar playing. "Fine Little Mama" drills along as does the stomping "Early One Morning," and that only briefly covers less than half of what's here. "Strange Angels" is one that many won't recognize, but thanks to the folks that put this set together, we all get a chance to hear another slice of wizardry. Brilliantly recorded and engineered in New York by Bobby Robinson in 1962, as were many of these sides, it buzzes and broils perfectly. "Look On Yonder Wall" is more accurately "Crutch And Cane" and while Sammy Myers is credited with playing harp, he's absent ("Look On Yonder Wall" was cut with harmonica, but it's not included here).
All in all, it's not just Elmore's guitar, his declamatory vocals, or the cuts themselves; it's what's inside them (and the space that's left so everything breathes) that makes you realize just how much genius was at work. These guys all had their own concerns with bands they fronted, or were sidemen in, and when they got together to hit the studios, they pulled in tight for some of the heaviest Blues anyone could care to listen to. These are sides that will forever remain classics and credit goes to all involved; be it the reckless abandon in the guitar work, the stumbling and shuffling drum parts that propel everything ahead, the lazy piano spinning in and out of the rhythms, and last but not least, Elmore's big voice... he wasn't smooth in his delivery, and that's just fine with me. He belted and shouted out his lyrics making sure everyone within earshot could hear him. James was a master whose time was too short. He was born in 1918 and suffered health problems for most of his years, and those problems eventually caused his death at the age of 45. I can only imagine the early and wild nights at the Midnight Grill in Tchula, MS or the sweat and power of a set at Sylvio's Lounge in Chicago, but it's that imagination that keeps me tied to a music that makes all of us proud. Search around for this great 2 CD set, it's well worth the paltry sum asked by many online retailers. Snapper/Recall proved difficult to locate on the net, but www.allmusic.com has some fascinating Elmore stuff to plow through while you're spinning these discs.
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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