This incredible collection of roots music and acoustic country blues from the Cello Records / Music Maker Series provides a glimpse into the hidden talents of twenty-one artists that for the most part, have been heard only in their respective local communities. Fortunately, visionary Tim Duffy, through the "Music Maker Relief Foundation" and Cello Records has provided these artists with a vehicle with which to share their artistry to the rest of the world as well as contribute to their own care and for that of their fellow Music Maker Artists.
Recorded on Cello Ltd’s special two-microphone set-up, "Expressin’ the Blues" has a refined audio quality, especially for a field recording. The nuances of the guitars and voices are well balanced, separated and distinct. Turn up the volume and you are right there with them. Any closer and you’d have to sell tickets.
Encompassing a wide range of musical idioms, "Expressin’ the Blues" is a vast array of authentic country blues and roots music. There is the plaintive field holler of Rufus McKenzie and the deep soulful voice of Captain Luke, an artist who also makes functional works of art such as lamps and ashtrays out of ingenuity, empty beer cans, some wood, a few staples, and a pair of scissors in his North Carolina workshop.
You can enjoy the intricate and driving Piedmont fingerpicking of the 86 year old Etta Baker, who’s CD titled "Railroad Bill" is nominated for the "Acoustic Blues Album of the Year" at the 2000 Handy awards. Check out the Piedmont style of John Dee Holeman that somehow has the tinge of a Texas shuffle to it and get down and dirty to the intense and the driving Northern Mississippi hill country guitar and vocals of Robert "Wolfman" Belfour.
"Expressin’ the Blues" contains the Appalachian mountain banjo of Samuel Turner Stevens and the West Virginia country music of Carl Rutherford. This fabulous assemblage even has a wonderfully bawdy little ditty titled "Peter Rumpkin" performed by "The Worlds Only Black Gypsy," a genuine "one of a kind" snake lady named Willa Mae Buckner. Also known as "The Princess of Ejo," and the "Wild Enchantress," her life story as a chorus girl, blues singer, dancer and owner/operator of a traveling snake show is a book in and of itself.
We have the story of the blues as defined by Georgian, Guitar Gabriel, and a great tale sung by Big Boy Henry about his pet, a little red rooster named Old Bill, and how he gets cooked for, and eaten by, the preacher who’s after his mother.
Included on this superb compilation is the former street singer from South Carolina named Cootie Starks. A Music Maker success story, and accompanied here by Michael Parrish, Ardie Dean, Abraham Reid, and Mark Tortenson, Mr. Starks is a man who’s vibe literally jumps right out at you with his energetic "true story" of "Metal Bottoms." (he also has a CD out called "Sugar Man," that is available at decent music stores and through the MMRF)
If that isn’t enough, Alga Mae Hinton is also presented here. Nominated for the "Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year" at the 2000 Handy’s, she sings and plays her guitar in the melodic Carolina style she learned from her mother.
Listen to a first generation bluesman from North Carolina named Preston Fulp and the eighty seven year old South Carolinian, Albert Smith, who shares his piano with us. Join Macavine Hayes as he pumps out his loping juke blues and Mother Marie Manning as she sings an awesome version of "Hard Luck and Trouble" accompanied by the driving guitar of Bishop Dready Manning. The minister of two churches in North Carolina, Bishop Manning also appears on his own solo version of "Gospel Train."
From various parts of Georgia, we have Precious Bryant’s finger-style guitar and storytelling, a beautiful, philosophical song written and performed acappella by Essie Mae Brooks, the powerful harp of Neal Pattman, and the upside down left handed guitar styling of John Lee Zeigler. (Mr. Zeigler can also be heard on the Music Maker compilation "Came So Far.")
While every cut may not be your particular cup of tea, . "Expressin’ the Blues" contains the enormous talent of many artists heard here for the very first time and is an instant "must have" for acoustic roots music and/or country blues aficionados. The sound quality is excellent and the performances are pure. "Expressin’ the Blues" is packed full of enough vibrant roots music to satisfy everybody. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Cello/Music Maker releases featuring many of these same artists and after giving this compilation a spin, I’m sure you will be joining me on that waiting list.
Cello Records, P O Box 20, South Molton, EX36 4YW. England
Music Maker, Route 1, Box 567 Pinnacle, NC 27043
This review is copyright © 2000 by Stephen T. Davidson, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.