BIG JOE WILLIAMS: COMPLETE RECORDED WORKS VOL. 2 (1945-1949; 1991)
1) Drop Down Blues; 2) Somebody's Been Worryin'; 3) Wanita; 4) Vitamin A; 5) His Spirit Lives On; 6) Baby Please Don't Go; 7) Stack Of Dollars; 8) Mellow Apples; 9) Wild Cow Moan; 10) P Vine Blues; 11) Bad And Weakhearted Blues; 12) King Biscuit Stomp; 13) I'm A Highway Man; 14) Banta Rooster Blues; 15) Mean Step Father Blues; 16) House Lady Blues; 17) Don't You Leave Me Here; 18) Jivin' Woman; 19) She's A Married Woman; 20) Walking Blues; 21) Atlanta Town.
The second half of the 1940s was a very unstable time for Big Joe: most of these tracks stem from but three sessions, one final piece of work for the Bluebird label in 1945, a large session for Columbia in 1947, and a very small one for Bullet Records in Nashville in 1949. (The last two segments on the album, defying the «complete recorded works in chronological order» ideology, are actually said to date back to 1935 — the first, and sonically very creaky, examples of Big Joe's presence on record).
Putting aside the usual criticisms (lack of diversity etc.), the first two sessions are invaluable in that they give us some of the best recorded examples of Big Joe and Sonny Boy Williamson playing together — in fact, Sonny Boy is always the real star on here, exploring harmonica potential as best as he can. In many ways, these tracks may be said to represent the equivalent of the Muddy Waters / Little Walter team a decade later — Big Joe is the big, burly, dangerous presence, and Sonny Boy is his subtler squire that does not seem to be posing as big a «threat», but in reality may exercise an even higher influence on your subconscious than the Big Guy.
Quite a few of these songs follow a boogie pattern, too ('King Biscuit Stomp', etc.), with a strong, modestly thunderous rhythm session; naturally, these numbers could not hope to outdo the jump blues heroes of the time in terms of ass-kicking (what with the lack of equally strong vocalists or a big brass section), but Sonny Boy does all he can to compensate for the lack of oompah — on most of the fast-moving, rabble-rousing tracks his harp parts rock out quite strong.
In the interim, one cute historical curio is 'His Spirit Lives On', a little semi-original blues number with a bit of a gospel flair to it, dedicated to the memory of the freshly passed FDR; unlike the majority of mainstream «patriotic» numbers of the era, these made-on-order tributes from concurrent Delta musicians are always interesting, if only because of a complete lack of pathos — Big Joe delivers lines like "he's gone, but his spirit lives on" with more or less the same attitude that he adopts for "sail on, my little honey bee, sail on", and even if that begs for the question — did he or didn't he actually give a damn about FDR? — in the end, the question is totally irrelevant, because, regardless of the answer, it is still a much cooler way to see FDR off than any pathetic patriotic anthem one might have come up with instead.
The two songs from 1949 are interesting in that, for the first time, we expressly notice Big Joe's endorsement of electricity; by the mid-1950's, he would always play amplified — apparently, it suited his personality and emphasized the subtle uniqueness of his nine-string sound. He did not, however, have a lot of opportunities to record during those years: outshone by Muddy and the Chicago school, and deprived of a strong record label to back him up, from 1949 and up to 1958 his only recordings were for obscure or semi-legal labels that had no impact whatsoever, and are almost impossible to find nowadays. Even Complete Recorded Works have refrained from searching — the series stops right here in 1949, ignoring the «dark years» between Big Joe's heyday as a presence on the 78 rpm market and his re-emergence as a blues veteran on the LP market ten years later.
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