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Monday, March 19, 2012

Blind Blake: Complete Recorded Works Vol. 2 (1927-1928)


1) You Gonna Quit Me Blues; 2) Steel Mill Blues; 3) Southern Rag; 4) He's In The Jailhouse Now; 5) Wabash Rag; 6) Doggin' Me Mama Blues; 7) C. C. Pill Blues; 8) Hot Potatoes; 9) Southbound Rag; 10) Pay Day Daddy Blues; 11) Elzadie's Policy Blues; 12) Goodbye Mama Moan; 13) Tootie Blues; 14) That Lovin' I Crave; 15) That Lonesome Rave; 16) Terrible Murder Blues; 17) Leavin' Gal Blues; 18) No Dough Blues; 19) Lead Hearted Blues; 20) Let Your Love Come Down; 21) Rumblin' And Ramblin' Boa Constrictor Blues; 22) Bootlig Rum Dum Blues; 23) Detroit Bound Blues; 24) Beulah Land; 25) Panther Squall Blues.

The ratio of mediocre to great on this second volume is more or less the same (as is the ratio of crackle to cleanliness). Early highlights of late 1927 include ʽSouthern Ragʼ, which features some of the most complex guitar runs recorded at that time — people amazed at the ability of Robert Johnson to play rhythm and melody simultaneously should take a listen to this, where at times it sounds like there are three guitars playing at once, where there is only one (and somehow he also manages to rap out brief accounts of Southern life as well); and a solid version of ʽHe's In The Jailhouse Nowʼ with the original, political lyrics ("Remember last election / Everybody was in ac­tion") rather than the depoliticized tale of crime and punishment, popularized by Jimmie Rod­gers and then, further on down the line, in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Particularly of note is Blake's suddenly-turned-gravelly voice as he changes the refrain from "He's in the jailhouse now" to "He's in the graveyard now" — a classic moment in country blues history, I'd say.

Further on down the line, we get some diversity: on ʽDoggin' Me Mama Bluesʼ, Jimmy Bertrand all but steals away the spotlight with a funny xylophone part, while Blake is content with provi­ding rather ordinary accompaniment; and on ʽC. C. Pill Bluesʼ, he is paired with Johnny Dodds on clarinet — incidentally, this happens to be one of Ry Cooder's favourite pre-war recordings, due to the sheer added value of all the talent involved (apparently, Dodds is considered to be one of the pre-Benny Goodman era clarinet greats). Bertrand, meanwhile, switches to slide whistle, an instrument rarely heard in principle and almost never as a counterpart to acoustic blues perfor­mances in particular.

Later on, Blake is again accompanying singers, such as Elzadie Robinson and Bertha Henderson; however, neither of the two is tremendously interesting, and neither seems to have had any inte­rest in supporting Blake's interest in ragtime guitar, preferring to stick to generically slow urban blues. We do get to see the man in some exciting piano action, though, on ʽLet Your Love Come Downʼ, which proves that he was just as adept on the ivory keys as he was on the strings (hardly sur­prising, though: you'd have to learn your ragtime on the piano first, before transposing it to guitar). But overall, for most of early 1928 Blind Blake was generally engaged in playing so-so urban blues, even when playing solo, exactly the way that, say, a Leroy Carr would perform it on piano. The worst thing about these performances is not even the lack of a proper territory to show off his technique, but rather the very fact that urban blues sifted through an old-time Delta atti­tude is almost a contradiction in terms. «Urban blues» is generally middle-class entertainment, whereas Delta blues grows on much lower depths, and both require different skills and attitudes to be successful.

«Smooth» players like Lonnie Johnson could get away with it — Lonnie was quite «urbanized» in his soul and sound; Blind Blake, on the other hand, was a figure cut out for dance frenzy, de­bauchery, and drinking (which is why the former lived to a ripe old age, and the latter only left us one single photograph). So give me ʽSouthern Ragʼ and ʽHe's In The Jailhouse Nowʼ over boring material like ʽDetroit Bound Bluesʼ any day. For these songs alone, the second volume earns ano­ther certified thumbs up; but filler will always be filler, no matter how many thin-grained subtle­ties a jaded listener's ear can locate in the blueness of the man's blue notes.


  1. You don't know who Johnny Dodds is? I know that Billie Holiday satisfies you as far as traditional jazz goes, but you NEED to listen to Louis Armstrong's Hot Five / Hot Seven ASAP. The only problem being that, being who you are, you'd feel compelled to collect all Armstrong ;)

    1. Oh, I do know that all right, and I have the Hot 5 / 7 recordings in my collection, too (and plenty of other Armstrong). But I do have problems with telling pre-WWII clarinet players from one another, for sure, even the great ones.