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The Blues Foundation's 1999 "Keeping the Blues Alive Award"
A Tribute to the Legendary Blues Mandolin Man James "Yank" Rachell 1910-1997
(Yanksville Records - yr012708)
Review Date: Nov 2009
by Gordon Baxter
It is hard to believe it is almost 12 years since Yank Rachell died. A musical all rounder, he is probably best known for his mandolin playing, which explains why producer (and mandolin exponent) Michael Butler assembled a tribute CD based in Yank's adopted hometown of Indianapolis. It features a range of musicians (including John Sebastian, Rich DelGrosso, and Mike Seeger) mostly playing songs that Yank wrote or played.
Naturally, the mandolin features very heavily. This does not mean that all the songs sound the same, however, which is testament to the mandolin's versatility as a blues instrument. So you get jaunty numbers like the opening "Texas Tony", "Deep Elam Blues" and Stanley Smith's "Bluesy Little Tune", but you also get some neat twists, like the excellent almost funky version of "Shotgun Blues", and Andra Faye's (Saffire) elegantly simple, stripped back "My Baby's Gone". There is even a 21st Century twist too, with Jean-Louis Mahjun's version of "Cigarette Blues" with its effects and programmed beats. Whilst it seems slightly out of place here, it demonstrates how Rachell's music has really stood the test of time.
Tribute albums are a mixed bag. Fortunately this one falls into the good category, although it might have been nicer as a DVD with more anecdotes like that from John Sebastian. Still, it is all in a good cause, with the net proceeds going to Rachell's family. Sadly this is rather timely, given that Yank's granddaughter Sheena (who sings on two of the tracks) has recently been diagnosed with a rare debilitating chronic lung disease.
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