The Washboard Sam Collection: 1935-1953
Washboard Sam was a pivotal figure in the late '30s and 1940s on the Chicago prewar blues scene, taking country hokum concepts to the city and to the edge of R&B and even small-combo jazz. Yes, he played washboard (complete with a self-mounted cowbell), usually in the same rhythm, but a case could be made that he got everything possible out of its percussive capabilities. His real strengths were his rich, strong voice, which always carried a kind of unfettered joy, and his ability to perfectly straddle the line between rural and urban sounds, which made him an immensely popular performer wherever he played. This generous three-disc, 75-track set collects several of his Bluebird and RCA Victor recordings made between 1936 and 1953, and features Sam doing his thing with the likes of Big Bill Broonzy (Washboard's rumored stepbrother), Memphis Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, and a young Willie Dixon. This is good-time acoustic blues and if it gets a bit repetitive, well, it's the blues and it isn't about variety. Still, with 75 tracks of this stuff, there is more here than most listeners will ever need (and maybe then some), but it does chronicle the prime of an anachronistic performer who was nonetheless contemporary and forward-thinking and had a considerable, if unheralded, hand in the birth of modern Chicago blues.