S0NY BEGINS WORLD CONQUEST
As part of the secret cabal plot to rule the entertainment world, one of the three or four companies who will eventually control all forms of recorded music have begun their conquest with a massive revision of history. A new set entitled SONY MUSIC 100 YEARS: SOUNDTRACK FOR A CENTURY, consisting of 26 CD's with 547 songs from 10 genres and a 308 page book has just hit the market like a watermelon loaded with lead. Presumably fork-lifts will be available to help you load this mother into your assault vehicle, which may tip over on power turns from the combined physical and creative weight of the contents. However, if you don't have the $3,999.95 for the whole shebang, you can buy individual 2 CD sets, by type. This is one of them. (FWIW, the other categories are; Popular (3 volumes), Country, Jazz, Movie Music, Broadway, Rock, R&B, Sony Classical (as opposed to your run of the mill classical) and International.)
FOLK BLUES & GOSPEL spans 1920-94, beginning with the gospel of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the first commercial recording of a blues singer, Mamie Smith doing "Crazy Blues". According to the excellent booklet notes by blues historian Mary Katherine Aldin, the tune was originally intended for white vaudevillian singer Sophie Tucker, when she got sick, Smith got the call.
The late 20's are represented by cuts from Bessie Smith (her entire catalogue remains in print today), Mississippi John Hurt (the rediscovered folkie favorite of the 60's), Blind Willie Johnson (not his hair-raising "Dark Was The Night", rather instead the powerful "I Just Can't Keep From Crying", and the otherworldly gospel sound of Washington Phillips.
The thirties brings The Mississippi Sheiks (the ubiquitous "Sitting On Top Of The World"), Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell, Thomas A Dorsey (AKA Georgia Tom, bawdy songster-- heard here doing a religious number), Blind Willie McTell (his original version of "Broke Down Engine"), Leadbelly (he did a session for ARC label in 1935), Robert Johnson, ("Cross Road Blues" of course), and Big Bill Broonzy. Then things get a little strange with Josh White & His Carolians, a gospel number by the guy who'd later become a popular NYC cafe-society bluesman-lite. Weirdness continues with Burl Ives "Cowboys Lament", the first white voice of the set.
Into the 40s with gospel from The Golden Gate Quartet, the operatic Paul Robeson, and blues from Memphis Minnie ("Me & My Chauffeur" naturally), Big Joe Williams ("Baby Please Don't Go"-- or else), and Muddy Waters first commercial recordings from 1946, in the then popular sweet-blues style, before he got back to his down-home roots.
The second CD is more folky, beginning with 60's cuts from Dylan ("Blowing In The Wind", The Clancy Brothers, New Christy Minstrels, Pete Seeger and Simon & Garfunkel. Its back to blues with "Death Letter" from Son House's 1965 rediscovery sessions, and the Staple Singers do an okay remake of their Vee-Jay stunner "Will The Circle Be Unbroken". More folk from Malvina Reynolds, Leonard Cohen, Tom Rush and Eric Anderson. Blues/rock gets a nod with a track from Johnny Winters 1969 debut album, and a rather limp track from Willie Dixon.
The seventies bring the dreaded singer-songwriter syndrome to the fore, including Dan Fogleberg and Steve Forbert (another of the faded "new Dylans"), the eighties Stevie Ray Vaughan and Shawn Colvin. The nineties are represented here by the Indigo Girls, a rousing Shirley Caesar gospel cut "Stand Still", and Keb’ Mo’, the Broadway version of a bluesman.
In total an interesting collection, with mostly obvious and a few really odd choices. Where the limitation comes in is that they are only drawn from the Columbia/Sony archives--so there's a whole lot of other people equally or more representative of the decades covered that get left out. Still, given those parameters, this set plays fairly well. After all, those archives are both wide & deep. But its sort of like those year-end sum-ups that mags feel compelled to do, by getting writers to turn in ten-best lists in every category. Once you've seen the choices, you no longer really care. However, if you've been in a coma since say 1930, this collection will help greatly in filling in the blanks. If you haven't then you've probably already got most of it.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.