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Monday, February 14, 2011

Barbecue Bob: Complete Recorded Works Vol. 1 (1927-1928)


1) Barbecue Blues; 2) Cloudy Sky Blues; 3) Mississippi Heavy Water Blues; 4) Mamma You Don't Suit Me; 5) Brown-Skin Gal; 6) Honey You Don't Know My Mind; 7) Poor Boy A Long Ways From Home; 8) When The Saints Go Marching In; 9) Jesus' Blood Can Make Me Whole; 10) Easy Rider Don't You Deny My Name; 11) Thinkin' Fun­ny Blues; 12) My Mistake Blues; 13) Motherless Child Blues; 14) How Long Pretty Mama; 15) It Won't Be Long Now Pt. 1; 16) It Won't Be Long Now Pt. 2; 17) Crooked Woman Blues; 18) 'Fo Day Creep; 19) Blind Pig Blues; 20) Waycross Georgia Blues; 21) Goin' Up The Country; 22) Chocolate To The Bone; 23) Hurry And Bring It Back Home.

Barbecue Bob broiled barbecues, boiled bouillons, and... uh... brewed bouillabaisse? In between that and other culinary delights, he played guitar and, in stark contrast to Barbecue Bill, Barbecue Tom, Dick, and Harry, got put in history when, through Columbia Records talent scout man Dan Hornsby, he was offered the chance to record some of his playing and singing for the rapidly growing acoustic blues market. Actually, his real name was Robert Hicks, and he wasn't half bad, but it is highly likely that most people bought his records all based on the «singing cook» gimmick. One of the only two photos of the man that we know has him wearing an apron — even though, upon starting to make some real money in the record business, the apron must have been making its reappearance for promo reasons only.

Barbecue Bob is usually lumped in together with the «Piedmont Blues» style, because of his Geo­rgian origins. He wasn't, however, one of the true Piedmont innovators: compared to real fabu­lous greats who almost seemed to come from nowhere, like Blind Blake, his «flailing» style of play­ing was much simpler and more traditional. He mostly played the 12-string, and wasn't half bad at sliding (sometimes he manages to «flail» and slide at the same time), but overall, it is no crime to state that he was not a great player, not according to these here ears. But as a repre­sen­ta­tive of one long gone generic kind of sound, he's all right. For all we know, that's just about the way them old Negroes would play this thing in 1897, or even before that, once they got acquain­ted with the guitar and started playing them like the white folks would play the banjo. So that's gotta count for something.

Bob was much better at singing, though, sounding like a slightly less versatile, but somewhat griz­zlier, less explicitly «effeminate» early version of Blind Willie McTell; after a while, his tim­bre becomes unmistakable, and his feel for the blues easily equates that of the greats of that era. Furthermore, as much as the limited formula did allow, he tried to somehow diversify his played and sung parts — echoes of old folk songs, newer country sounds, and spirituals (a nice pre-Arm­strong take on 'When The Saints' included), all ran through his friendly tone that mixes friendli­ness and pain in just the right proportion.

Two of Bob's better known songs are on this first volume, covering his 1927-28 years: 'Mississi­ppi Heavy Water Blues', commemorating a series of floods so close to everyone's hearts that the song made him into a hitmaker almost overnight, and 'Motherless Child', best known today, per­haps, through Clapton's cover on From The Cradle — for which Eric humbly reproduced, al­most note for note, Bob's «simplistic» rolling-droning rhythm, and did a good job at it, but only improved on the original in terms of sound quality. Many of the other titles are recognizable as well, but it is these two that constitute the cornerstone of the barbecue man's legacy, and it will sure harm none to get to know them in their 1927 incarnations.

Especially since the sound quality is quite remarkable; although Paramount was the leading force on the country/Delta blues market during the pre-Depression years, Columbia had the better en­gineering department, and all of Bob's sides are consistently listenable — whereas, for instance, trying to listen to all of Blind Lemon Jefferson's output in a row is a very serious challenge.

Check Out "Barbecue Bob Vol. 1" (CD) on Amazon
Check Out "Barbecue Bob Vol. 1" (MP3) on Amazon

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