The impact of Charley Patton's musical genius on the blues is unquestioned. His diversified repertoire, rough powerful voice, driving rhythms, snapping bass lines, slide guitar, and raucous performances are legendary. The indelible mark he left on the musical landscape in his exemplary role as one of the first blues "stars" is still reverberating throughout modern music.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that all of the early well-known Mississippi bluesmen could trace their musical lineage straight back to Charley Patton.
A disparate assortment of artists pays their respect to the inspirational Patton on Telarc's latest contribution to his legacy, "Down the Dirt Road, The Songs of Charley Patton." With the exception of "Sugar Mama," Patton recorded all of the songs found here in the five short years in which he was a recording artist for Paramount and Vocalion between 1929 and 1934.
Steve James and Mark Rubin entertain us with a pair of songs, "Elder Greene Blues," and "Shake It and Break It," both of which are highlights on a CD with no real clunkers. On "Elder Greene Blues," with its melody based on a turn of the century standard, they play a slightly more syncopated version than Patton's adaptation and on the breakdown, "Shake It and Break It,"
James and Rubin 'shake' things up by performing it with a banjo and tuba. Rubins' tuba provides an especially appealing addition to the song with its sliding bass lines and James' banjo conveys an enjoyable old timey feel.
The great harmonica master, Charlie Musselwhite, performing solo, sings and fingerpicks his guitar on a laid back, "Pea Vine Blues." (The Pea Vine was a train that passed through Dockery plantation where Patton spent a great deal of time.) Another harp maestro, Snooky Pryor, allegedly the first harmonica player in Chicago to play through a public address system, plays Patton's signature song and first Paramount release, "Pony Blues." Snooky sings a slightly slower version then the original, which has a very unique structure, and his harmonica punctuates his powerful voice.
Paul Rishell and Anne Raines play a slow, moving version of "I Shall Not Be Moved," a religious song which Patton may have learned from his father, an elder in a plantation church. Patton's rendition played with a slide, whips into double time, which lessens its impact and loses the potency of the inspirational version found here.
Guy Davis, accompanied by a band including the legendary Levon Helm on drums, delivers his pleasant version of the old country ballad, "Some of These Days." Corey Harris snaps the strings and smacks his steel-bodied guitar in a exemplary solo version of "Moon Going Down" and Dave Von Ronk fingerpicks the monotonic "Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues," a song about the bo
weevil that attacked Sunflower County in 1910 which Charley performed on slide guitar.
Joe Louis Walker delivers a notably strong vocal and slide guitar performance on "Sugar Mama," the inclusion of which must be in the "inspired by Patton" category since he did not record the song.
The British rocker, Graham Parker, plays a solo interpretation of "Poor Me," a song that mentions Charley's young wife, Bertha Lee, but which could have been played a little slower to retain more of the sensitivity of Patton's version. Kid Bangham and band execute a delicate instrumental version of "Some Summer Day," a take on the classic "Sittin' On Top of the World" melody. To end the set, Colleen Sexton combines the title track, "Down the Dirt Road Blues," with "When Your Way Gets Dark," using the melody of the title track as the vehicle to combine the two songs for a slow and touching medley.
"Down the Dirt Road, The Songs of Charley Patton," is an excellent introduction to the music of the legendary Mississippi Delta bluesman. The sound quality is first rate, the performances are outstanding, the vocals are great, and the song selection is good. Simply put, this is terrific
Produced by Randy Labbe, "Down the Dirt Road," was mixed and mastered by Lincoln Clapp. Robert Woods was the executive producer and the production supervisor was Elaine Martone.
Telarc International Corporation, 23307 Commerce Park RD, Cleveland OH 44122
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.