While piano blues and boogie will never again reach the heights it did decades ago when Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis became society figures, it is in fair shape today with a number of artists still plying the two-fisted patterns from battered uprights. Delmark has managed to drop a masterpiece into the fold with Robert McCoy. While recorded forty years ago, the near 70 minutes of playing time reflect the sounds of the 1930's when countless barrelhouse pianists were playing lumber camps, juke joints, house rent parties, and recording for numerous imprints. McCoy was certainly a throwback to those years, and also a little recognized contributor, although one with a good handful of efforts to his credit some thirty years prior to these sessions.
Of the 21 tracks here, there are 7 which were previously unissued while the other 14 emanate from rare and long-lost LP's on the Vulcan label from the early 1960's. With a rich voice and an attack solidly rooted in the depression years, McCoy delivers each and every track with an authoritative force. Whether playing slow solid blues as shown on St. Louis Jimmy's "Goin' Down Slow" and "Gone Mother Blues," or the slightly increased grooves of "Pratt City Special ," McCoy's technique reveals an incredible foundation. His rolling right hand weaves in and out between the bass patterns his left delivers and his use of trills and sweet counterpoints during "You Got To Reap What You Sow" relieve the tension when he sings:
"You kill my dog, I'll kill your cat,
it doesn't matter, a thing like that."
Whether rumbling through his own "Call The Wagon" or Scrapper Blackwell's "Straight Alky Blues," there's a timeless beauty present making the listener feel as though there's a timewarp at work. The unissued tracks are location recordings and although they suffer from reduced sonic quality, they are none the less stunning. McCoy shows the influence of Fats Waller in "There'll Be Some Changes Made" and he pushes through a forceful boogie during "Mr. Freddie's Blues," while the final few tracks find him assisted by Clarence Curry's archaic yet spot-on drumming.
There's magic here for those who appreciate what once was a thriving scene packed with colorful characters with names as creative as their playing and while Robert McCoy might be a smaller asterisk next to acknowledged masters of the idiom like Cripple Clarence Lofton or Jimmy Yancey, he was a performer of power and remarkable impact as amply shown on this disc. Patrick Cather's laboring liner notes are delightfully good reading, if you happen to be on hold after dialing the local suicide hotline.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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