Compilations like this belong in every CD rack and not just blues collections. Cut during the 1920's and 30's, when these artists were at the forefront of recording, due to the popularity of boogie woogie and blues piano, every performance is a contribution of the highest order from the wide cross-section of stylists. Clocking in at over 70 minutes, with 23 tracks and stunning sound quality, this is some of the finest barrelhouse and early blues piano available. Yazoo deserves accolades for their determination to the preservation of historic music, and their guidelines for remastering are of the strictest standards. In some cases, where only one or two copies are known of these 78's, some in less than pristine condition, every track sounds crisp, with minimal surface noise.
Jabo Williams, an Alabama native, fires first with "Pratt City Blues" and "Jab's Blues," stomping pieces with knockout power in both the right and left hand. Louise Johnson, a close friend, musical associate, and more, to both Son House and Charley Patton, hailed from near Clarksdale, MS, and is thought to have been less than 20 years old when she recorded her only solo session. Regardless of her age, she was a pianist of massive strength, as shown in her four sides, including the rippling "On The Wall," a bawdy piece with plenty of drive. "By The Moon And Stars" might sound like a torch title, but it's a strutting blues with gripping vocals and solid two-fisted piano, while "Long Ways From Home" and "All Night Long Blues" find her being urged on by men shouting approval (probably House, Patton, and Willie Brown, who all traveled to the 1930 date together, with Wheeler Ford, a driver hired by the label). Skip James, primarily known as a guitarist, waxed a number of piano titles, and here we have the oddly timed "If You Haven't Any Hay Get On Down The Road" and his fine "22-20 Blues," a forerunner to Robert Johnson's similarly named cut. Charley Taylor, a Louisiana purveyor, contributes both "Heavy Suitcase Blues" and "Louisiana Bound" (interesting with its verse that predates Muddy's "Louisiana Blues" by a couple of decades) with shattering abilities. Little Brother Montgomery adds "Vicksburg Blues" and "No Special Rider Blues," songs that he cut a few times over a long career, but these are the premier versions. Jabo Williams returns with "Polock Blues" and "Fat Mama Blues," hefty tracks with plenty of force, and James Wiggins rasping vocals are supported by piano from Leroy Garnett and Bob Call respectively on "Gotta Shave 'Em Dry" and "Evil Woman Blues." Rudy Foster's "Black Gal Makes Thunder" and "Corn Trimmer Blues" seem to be accompanied by Louise Johnson's authoritative work. As mentioned in the liner notes, this theory is supported by the fact that Johnson was at the Paramount studio at the same time, and the two share adjacent matrix numbers on masters; whatever the case, both are stellar tracks. Kingfish Bill Tomlin, a figure little is known about, is fine on both "Army Blues" and "Hot Box," with its nasal, kazoo-like accompaniment, and Roosevelt Sykes is tight on "Three, Six And Nine." Closing out the set is Piano Kid Edwards' wonderful "Gamblin' Man's Prayer."
One of this writers' best picks from last year, "Juke Joint Saturday Night" wins on all counts for reissue projects. There's no skimping on allotted time, nor the detailed 11 pages of notes from Bob Hall. The cover shot itself is a winner, but the center-spread is even larger, from a juke in Minglewood, TN, in 1920. As mentioned, sound is above what many other labels accept in remastering sides from 70+ years ago, but Yazoo has remained a major force in blues for decades, due to their steadfast stance on releasing fine compilations. For more info, head to http://yazoobluesmailorder.com and search the rest of their excellent catalog.
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.