"Spider" John Koerner, Dave "Snaker" Ray and Tony "Little Sun" Glover
Blues, Rags & Hollers
(Red House Records RHR CD 76)
by Gordon Baxter
Review date: July 2003
"Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by The Blues Foundation
It is hard to believe, but this month (June 2003) it will be 40 years since the release of Koerner, Ray and Glover's "Blues, Rags & Hollers" album on translucent red vinyl in a limited 300 copy pressing. In celebration, it seems timely to revisit the CD version, which is itself already nine years old, and reappraise the album. The early to mid 1960's was the time of the folk and blues revival, and "Blues, Rags & Hollers" can be seen in that light. In some respects the album can be seen as the trio's tribute to some of the seminal blues musicians who remain highly influential today--Huddie Ledbetter, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sleepy John Estes, and Peg Leg Howell--plus one not so well known: Cat Iron (aka William Carradine).
In addition to borrowing from the traditions, Koerner, Ray and Glover were also giving something back. They took the old songs and re-arranged them to give them new life. They also added nine originals, all of which stood favorable comparison with the covers. The whole album still has a vitality about it today, which is testament to trio's capabilities. Koerner and Ray both proved themselves to be accomplished guitarists, and Glover a fine and sympathetic harpman. Plus all three of them could sing, and they always sounded like they felt it.
The title is a perfect description of the contents. The album opens with a cracking trio of tracks, beginning with an excellent version of the holler "Linin' Track." This is quickly followed by Koerner and Glover doing "Ramblin' Blues" and Ray with the highly impressive "It's All Right" which was improvised live in the studio. These tracks set the standards which the rest of the album somehow manages to maintain and even surpasses in a few places, such as "Creepy John," "Jimmy Bell" and the closer, "Mumblin' Word." Fortunately, the CD version restores the four tracks that had to be cut when the original album was reissued by Elektra in November 1963.
There's a timeless quality to a lot of prewar blues and folk music. On "Blues, Rags & Hollers," Koerner, Ray and Glover managed to recreate that quality, and as a result the music still sounds fresh and vibrant today. Although never widely regarded as a seminal album, it is much more than a cult classic, and was (and still is) critically acclaimed in most quarters. If you wanted to give someone an introduction to acoustic blues and its
roots, you could do a lot worse than buy them a copy of "Blues, Rags & Hollers."
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