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Monday, April 2, 2012

Blind Blake: Complete Recorded Works Vol. 4 (1929-1932)


1) Sweet Jivin' Mama; 2) Lonesome Christmas Blues; 3) Third Degree Blues; 4) Guitar Chimes; 5) Blind Arthur's Breakdown; 6) Baby Lou Blues; 7) Cold Love Blues; 8) Papa Charlie Jackson And Blind Blake Talk About It, pt. 1; 9) Papa Charlie Jackson And Blind Blake Talk About It, pt. 2; 10) Stingaree Man Blues; 11) Itching Heel; 12) You've Got What I Want; 13) Cherry Hill Blues; 14) Diddie Wah Diddie No. 2; 15) Hard Pushing Papa; 16) What A Low Down Place The Jailhouse Is; 17) Ain't Gonna Do That No More; 18) Playing Policy Blues; 19) Righteous Blues; 20) Rope Stretching Blues, pt. 2; 21) Rope Stretching Blues, pt. 1; 22) Champagne Charlie Is My Name; 23) Depression's Gone From Me Blues.

The last volume in the series is, unfortunately, quite far from great — not an atypical situation for the old bluesmen, decimated by life on the road, heavy drinking, and Depression depression no less harder than the rock generation youngsters would be decimated by their problems. Two ex­cellent pre-Depression sides may be found early on: ʽGuitar Chimesʼ, a slow blues shuffle that does indeed begin with some nifty «chiming», and the faster ragtime guitar showcase ʽBlind Arthur's Breakdownʼ — probably the last time you can hear the man relatively unburdened with atrocious hiss and crackle, doing his fabulously inimitable stuff.

The two-part «dialog» between Blake and Papa Charlie Jackson on the banjo, done in the form of a traveling minstrel show, is an excellent historical document, but the awful sound quality makes it all but impossible to understand the dialog as such, and they do concentrate on verbal exchange quite a bit more than on instrumental exchange. Then there are several more numbers on which Blake backs Irene Scruggs (tracks 10-13) — her vocals are a bit more distinctive and playful than those of the man's previous female partners, but the only well-audible highlight is ʽItching Heelʼ, where Blake plays it slow and cautious, but occasionally breaks into ragtime frenzy, changing the mood from passive-aggressive to comical.

By 1930, Blind Blake predictably had his studio time cut severely — and, according to most ac­counts, packed it with extra drinking instead, so that most of these late-period recordings were hardly up to the standards set in earlier years. The two-part ʽRope Stretchin' Bluesʼ is among his grimmest offerings, sung and played with tragic intonations that seem more heartfelt than ever be­fore (hard times taking their toll?). ʽChampagne Charlie Is My Nameʼ is an old Victorian music hall number that is so different in mood and style from Blake's usual repertoire that people have even expressed doubts about whether it is Blind Blake at all — one of those little mysteries that drives obsessive people crazy. No reason, though, why Blind Blake shouldn't have tried to make a different recording, especially considering that his standard blues repertoire was selling poorly. He could have been experimenting with his image a bit, deliberately choosing something upbeat and «jolly» to cheer people up — no wonder that the last track on here, a cover of the well-known standart ʽSittin' On Top Of The Worldʼ, is re-titled ʽDepression's Gone From Me Bluesʼ.

Depression would really be gone from Blind Blake several years later, when, unemployed and penniless, he would die from pulmonary tuberculosis (according to a recently discovered death certificate for one Arthur Blake in Milwaukee, provided, of course, that there is no coincidence involved). Had he lived, he would, of course, be eventually rediscovered and dragged out by an Alan Lomax, but, as it is, all we have left is just one photo, cleverly spread in four different di­mensions on four different album sleeves for the Document series — gradually zooming away from us as the years roll by. Technically, this last volume is the weakest of the lot and, according­ly, gets a thumbs down, but if you are hunting for the whole package rather than a best-of, there is no sense in bypassing it: with just four CDs worth of material from one of the era's most re­nowned and innovative guitar players, who'd want to intentionally ignore even his twilight years?

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