One good thing about a label run by a collector-fanatic--he knows how fellow music enthusiasts feel and operate. This is the 4th CD by Mance Lipscomb, Texas songster, put out by Chris Strachwitz's Arhoolie label—but care was taken to avoid duplication with already available material. In other words, this is not a rehash of familiar tunes with applause at the end--it's virtually a new set. (Only three of the 21 tunes have appeared previously, on vinyl releases.)
The Cabale was a Berkeley institution, not far from the University campus--a small cozy coffee-house with regular live entertainment. Besides being home to area folkies, it also booked a lot of the rediscovered bluesmen; Lightning Hopkins, Bukka White and Lipscomb all played there to rapt, appreciative crowds, a mixed audience of folk and blues fans. The first album Arhoolie issued was by Lipscomb, he was a good find. A Texas sharecropper, nearly 70, he still had a lot of dexterity and energy, as well as a wide repertoire. Some 50 years of working farms six days and week, then playing guitar for pocket change on weekends polished his talent. In a talking cut "Early Days Back Home", Mance reminisces about playing all night Saturday at black dances, then doing a Sunday night white-folks gig, sticking to blander material.
That facility for pleasing both crowds is what makes him interesting. He's solidly in the Texas guitar tradition, using a constant thumb-picked bass pulse note against chords or filigreed runs on the higher strings--it keeps the beat going for dancers. Mance was an adept finger-picker and often included a couple of Blind Boy Fuller numbers in the Piedmont style on his shows. This set, recorded ion 1964, is wide ranging from blues like "Key To The Highway" to spirituals such as "Run Sinner Run" to the old chestnut vaudeville number "Shine On Harvest Moon". He covers a couple of numbers cut by his younger compatriot Lightning Hopkins, "Short Haired Woman" and "I Wonder Why"--they're the deepest sounding blues here. Most other tunes are in a more light-hearted vein and Lispcombs vocals have the same mellow ease that characterized Mississippi John Hurt.
Lipscomb became a regular on the folk circuit in 1961, his gigs did a lot to influence other younger pickers with his easy-rocking, good-dancing style. This CD is a good example of why he was welcomed on every stage.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Tony Glover , and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.