Dr. David Evans' High Water Recording Company at the University of Memphis provides another treasure chest of Tennessee-Mississippi blues gems. R.L. Burnside ("Bad Luck City"), Jessie Mae Hemphill ("Brokenhearted Blues"), Junior Kimbrough, Hammie Nixon ("Bottle Up and Go") and Hezekiah and the Houserockers ("Midnight Blues" "Roll Me, Baby") are all represented on this collection with previously unreleased alternate takes of some of their well-known material. Kimbrough's all new "Tomorrow Night" is also included. In addition, Raymond Hill, Lillie Hill, Ranie Burnette, Waynell Jones and Uncle Ben and His Nephews include tracks previously available only on vinyl 45s.
The music by the ten artists and groups heard on this record has its roots in sounds that existed at the beginning of the twentieth century, when blues was in its earliest form. With so many artists and styles represented here, it is naturally difficult to make generalizations about this music.
Nevertheless, a few key characteristics can be pointed out. One is the use of repeated short melodic-rhythmic phrases or "riffs" as structural units in these tunes. This is a device that can be found throughout the history of Deep South blues and which is indeed traceable to traditional African music, but it seems to have achieved greater prominence with the rise of the electric guitar in the 1940s and 1950s.
The construction of pieces around riffs tends to reduce their harmonic content and give the listener a sense of hearing "one-chord drones" or simple shifts between tonal series based on two different fundamental pitches. Some listeners consider such music to be "dull" and "monotonous." Today it has become more familiar and acceptable and is viewed as "alternative" to overly harmonic popular sounds. Characteristics such as these give Deep South blues much of its special flavor and appeal.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Matt Alcott, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.