Compilations have long been a part of blues issues from myriad labels and Ace Records, from the UK, step up for an amazing journey with "The Travelling Record Man," a near 70-minute spin loaded with gems from a wide cast of artists. The list of performers reads like a who's-who of lesser-known and highly successful bluesmen running across Baby Face Turner, Big Charley Bradix, Tiny Webb, Elmore James, Howling Wolf, and many others. All from the vaults of the Modern label run by the Bihari boys of California, with a number of tracks courtesy of Ike Turner's ability to locate and sign stunning talent, there isn't a dud in the entire two-dozen cuts. The Bihari brothers were constantly searching out deals with various imprints and leased masters from a number of locations including Houston, Detroit, and Oakland, much of which is heard here. Sound quality is superb throughout and Ray Topping, British researcher and blues guru, penned some solid liner notes, but what's more important is the music, and incredible is what it is, from start to finish.
Kicking off with Baby Face Turner's "Blue Serenade," proves Turner's remarkable talents as a guitarist making good use of the broomdusting technique, sans slide, which is followed by Driftin' Slim's "My Sweet Woman," a perfect example of juke-joint sounds as a sideman yells out encouragement over a pounding drum backbeat. Charlie Booker is up next with "No Ridin' Blues" (based on 'No Special Rider Blues'), a lowdown slice of Mississippi Delta Blues which includes the harrowing line; "I say Greenville's smokin' and Leland's burnin' down, well I believe I'll keep my woman out of Greenville town," before Houston Boines pulls out a soulful harp break. Howling Wolf gets in with an audition acetate of "Riding In The Moonlight," previously issued on Ace's "Howling Wolf Rides Again" disc, and Texan, Smokey Hogg, drops off an unissued alternate take of "I'm Gonna Find Your Trick." The mysterious Pinetop Slim offers up the careening "Baby Please Don't Go" with stunning slide work, and then the Black Ace is up with the repetitive and droning guitar figures of "Cairo Blues," while "Tiny's Down Home" is a slow and brooding instrumental piece by one Tiny Webb, whose guitar abilities may not have been heroic, but they were certainly heartfelt. Jesse Thomas manages two appearances with "Tomorrow I May Be Gone" and "Meet Me Tonight (Along The Avenue)," both which easily prove his skills as an advanced technician of Texas blues guitar with brooding undertones and flashes of electric genius, then Sunny Blair and his band let loose with the storming "Please Send My Baby Back," a reworked John Lee Williamson nugget, complete with choked harp sounds and highly effective guitar over the top of throbbing drums. Elmore James gets into the action with "My Baby's Gone," a blazing workout including the prerequisite strangled vocals and battering slide guitar, but... the absolute gem among the bunch is Washboard Willie and Calvin Frazier plowing through the instrumental "Rock House." Recorded much like Robert Nighthawk's Maxwell Street sides, this 'live' performance comes from some unknown corner in Detroit showing Frazier's guitar work as incendiary as what Nighthawk did in Chicago, although the incredibly bizarre percussion work of Willie sets the fire and maintains the burn as Frazier rips out clusters of pinched single notes and crushing chords! Joe Hill Louis stands in for a trio of antics with "Good Morning Little Angel," the dysfunctional "She Broke Up My Life," and its reverse, "Keep Away From My Baby," all powerful with effective harmonica and distorted guitar.
With additional tracks from Lil' Son Jackson, Arkansas Johnny Todd (whose "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You" is marvelous), more from Elmore James and Smokey Hogg, Alexander Moore, and Boyd Gilmore, there is no shortage of riveting styles or gripping readings, and they toss in Willie Nix doing the rippling "Lonesome Bedroom Blues" for good measure! If one drawback exists, it's the absence of session details, and one which may elicit groans from the scholar's bleachers, but the hour-plus of blues-drenched tracks make up for that shortcoming in spades. www.acerecords.co.uk offers more information on this disc and a plethora of others, and they hint at much more along these lines in the next few years with a goal of putting forth the entire catalog of post-war masters from the Modern/RPM vaults. Here's hoping the folks at Ace continue what they have always been known for, issuing incredible music that pleases the senses of fans worldwide.
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