If you prefer your Blues acoustic, then John Cephas and Phil Wiggins' "Homemade" fits the bill nicely. Cephas and Wiggins (both natives of Washington, DC) first met in 1976, and worked together in the Barrelhouse Rockers, along with "Big Chief" (Wilbert Ellis), and James Bellamy. After Big Chief's death in 1977, they started playing as a duo, and they've been together ever since, complementing each other perfectly. They are often compared with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, with whom Big Chief had also worked. The main similarities are that Cephas, who has a rich resonant voice, also plays guitar in the fingerpicking Piedmont style (reflecting the influences of Blind Boy Fuller, Rev. Gary Davis and Blind Blake), whilst Wiggins, who grew up listening to Piedmont guitarist John Jackson, also plays unamplified harp.
Like their previous Alligator CD ("Cool Down", ALCD 4838), "Homemade" is roughly equally split between original songs and covers. The covers reflect a range of different styles including Piedmont (two by Blind Boy Fuller, and one by Rev. Gary Davis), Bentonia (Skip James' "Illinois Blues"), Memphis (Memphis Minnie's "Me and My Chauffeur") and Chicago (Maceo Merriwether's "Worried Life Blues" on which Darryl Davis acts as mainstay on piano).
As with most Blues from the south-eastern states the music has a light and airy feel, often using a ragtime base, in contrast to the powerful brooding intensity of Delta Blues. The subject matter of the songs is the same, however, as can be seen from John Cephas' accompanying notes. He is rather coy about a couple of tracks, however: the interpretation of "Jelly Roll" is left up to the listener; and he only mentions that "I Was Determined" is autobiographical.
Blues from the south-eastern states was never covered as widely as Delta Blues during the 1960's revival when artists like Son House and Skip James were rediscovered. Partly as a result of this you generally have to search a little harder to find artists who play and record in the Piedmont style. Cephas and Wiggins are doing their bit to keep the Piedmont tradition alive, however, through schools programs and workshops. "Homemade" is an important part of that effort, and is a very fine CD. For those who already possess some Piedmont Blues, "Homemade" is a welcome addition; for those who don't, this is a very good place to start.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.