An acoustic blues classic, "Too Wet To Plow," is categorical front porch
blues. Grab an ice-cold drink, sit on down, relax, and give it a listen.
This is down home blues played by a master bluesman. Recorded in 1975, five
years before a stroke limited his guitar playing, "Too Wet To Plow" features
the gifted old school bluesman, Johnny Shines, in prime form at the age of
60. Johnny is accompanied on seven of the twelve tunes by Louisiana Red
and/or Sugar Blue and ultimately performs by himself on the other five.
Playing solo on songs such as "You Better Turn Around," and "Moanin' the
Blues," Johnny's introspection precludes emotional release. His tremulous
voice virtually erupts from his forceful delivery and his guitar playing is
refined and full of strength. Playing with the others, he weaves his way
around their accompaniment in the style of a true Delta Bluesman.
Although he has developed his own style through years of playing on the road
with countless other bluesmen, he pays his respects to one of his earliest
mentors when he covers Robert Johnson's, "Hot Tamale." He also performs solo
on, "30 Days in Jail," another composition that owes much of its slide
origins to R.J.'s mentoring. Johnny's fingers dance up and down the
fretboard, stroking notes here and sliding notes there, the culmination of
which is a flurry of music created by the bluesman that feigns several
guitars being played at once, but in actuality, radiates cohesively from a
Louisiana Red, providing backing guitar on four of the songs, is the
featured singer and lead slide guitar player on "Red Sun." Based on the
"Rollin and Tumblin" phrasing, Red nails the slide in the stylistic vein of
Muddy Waters while Johnny provides quiet backing on second guitar. After
inviting Sugar Blue to solo on the harmonica, Red extends the same
invitation to himself before he solos on his slide guitar. Notice how Red's
slide hangs onto the last note of the signature riff for an extra long
moment, providing the blues drag that shakes up the rhythm and messes with
the minds of many a wannabe blues guitarist.
Ron Rault sits in on bass for a pair of tunes and a young Sugar Blue plays
harmonica on five of the songs. For the most part, James Whiting (Sugar
Blue) is generally blowing a restrained harp in a manner that is much more
conducive to this type of music than the pyrotechnically frenzied riffs that
often emanates from his repertoire. However, he still has moments where he
gives one the impression that he is attempting to search out that elusive
note that says the most. All in all he's had better performances on record
but it could have been much worse if he would have tried to dazzle us with a
gazillion notes on every song.
Johnny ends the set with a blues lesson titled, "Epilog." He directs his
comments towards Red but he might as well have been speaking to everyone who
tries to play the blues. "There's lots that you don't know about it, but you'll learn, you've got to learn, and it makes no difference how long you do
it, you gonna always learn something. When you get to the place where you
can't learn, it time to quit then, forget it." (JS) Come to think of it, he
may as well have been philosophizing about life in general.
Johnny Shines, "Too Wet to Plow," is a fine collection of acoustic blues
re-released by Labor Records to fill out Johnny's catalog of available
electric blues. Although he is capably accompanied by Louisiana Red and
Sugar Blue on several of the songs, his solo recordings are the definite
highlights of the CD. His authoritative voice and dexterous guitar playing
bring you back to the old school Delta blues. His voice, a mirror to his
soul, is compelling and filled with emotion. His guitar lays down the
foundation of his music; with it, he answers his expressive declarations and
accentuates the drama created by his lyrics, re-establishing a mesmerizing
scenario of the master bluesman and his blues.
Labor Records, Box 1601 Canal Street Station New York, N.Y. 10013-0879
Telephone: 718-833-4430, Fax: 718-833-7165, E-mail: LaborRec@aol.com
Distributed by: Qualiton www.Qualiton.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by Stephen T. Davidson, 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.