Living Country Blues: An Anthology
Today much of the South looks like Anywhere, USA, with K Mart, Home Depot, and McDonald's spreading across the landscape like garish vines. But scratch beneath the strip malls and mega-stores and you can find traces of the rich culture from which R&B, jazz, and rock sprouted: the country blues. Some of these rural singers and players, many of whom are descendents of blues musicians of the '30s and '40s, are brought together in the celebratory three-CD set LIVING COUNTRY BLUES. Recorded in 1980 on porches and in living rooms from Washington, D.C. to the Mississippi Delta by two German blues devotees, the material was released in Europe but has never been available in the States.
Mississippi native James "Son" Thomas opens the first disc, "Mississippi Moan," with an X-rated version of "Catfish Blues," his whispery voice -- particularly seductive on high notes -- accompanied only by the rhythmic ringing of his guitar. Sam Chatmon, once a member of the popular '30s string band the Mississippi Sheiks, lifts the level of the music to the
lyrical with his jazzy singing on "Sittin' on Top of the World." The closeness shared by gospel and blues is exemplified in the music of Boyd Rivers and Cora Fluker. Rivers, who was a blues man until the holy spirit called him to follow the path of his uncle, gospel singer Cleophus Robinson, creates a rawer Delta sound with a droning guitar and tortured-soul singing on "You Gonna Take Sick and Die" while Fluker, who preaches in a church in her front yard, rocks your soul with "Move Daniel."
The gentler sounds of east coast blues fill disc two, titled "Lonesome Road Blues," with cuts from the internationally known duo Cephas and Wiggins, as
well as material from more obscure performers such as D.C. street singer Flora Molton. The pleasing, rolling sound of Guitar Frank's six-string and mellow vocals on "Lonesome Road Blues" gives way to the more percussive playing of Archie Edwards on "The Road is Rough and Rocky." Edwards, who ran a D.C. barbershop where the quality of the jam sessions easily matched that of the Jheri curls, was with Mississippi John Hurt for several years, which is reflected more in his singing than his strumming. Guitarist Cephas and harp player Wiggins contribute an airy version of "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad," and Wiggins joins Molton's Truth Band for the closing cut, "Vacation in Heaven," which is closer to old timey mountain music than the blues.
Disc Three, "You Got to Move," is the most diverse set, with music ranging from the Mississippi hill sounds of Othar Turner and the Rising Star Fife and
Drum Band on "Granny Will Your Dog Bite" to the devilish Delta playing of guitarist CeDell Davis on the sexually charged "Let Me Play with Your Poodle" and Joe Savage's mournful a capella singing on "Joe's Prison Camp Holler," a tale of his imprisonment at the notorious Parchman Farm. From Tennessee comes harmonica legend Hammie Nixon whose subtle style, is stunningly displayed on "Viola Lee Blues," and slide guitarist Lottie Murrell's laid back but dramatic version of "Spoonful."
Son Thomas, Archie Edwards, and many of the other artists on LIVING COUNTRY BLUES have passed away since recording for the German blues enthusiasts, but the material they contributed is a testament to the resiliency of regional music and the culture from which it springs. Folk blues still lives off the back roads, in urban pockets and around the fringes of the New South.