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Monday, April 9, 2012

Blind Boy Fuller: Complete Recorded Works Vol. 1 (1935-1936)


1) Baby, I Don't Have To Worry; 2) I'm A Rattlesnakin' Daddy; 3) I'm Climbin' On Top Of The Hill; 4) Ain't It A Cryin' Shame; 5) Looking For My Woman; 6) Rag Mama Rag (take 1); 7) Rag Mama Rag (take 2); 8) Baby, You Gotta Change Your Mind; 9) Evil Hearted Woman; 10) My Brownskin Sugar Plum; 11) Somebody's Been Playing With That Thing; 12) Log Cabin Blues (take 1); 13) Log Cabin Blues (take 2); 14) Homesick And Lonesome Blues; 15) Walkin' My Troubles Away (take 1); 16) Walkin' My Troubles Away (take 2); 17) Black And Tan; 18) Keep Away From My Woman (take 1); 19) Keep Away From My Woman (take 2); 20) Babe, You Got To Do Better; 21) Big Bed Blues; 22) Truckin' My Blues Away; 23) She's Funny That Way; 24) Cat Man Blues (take 1).

Unless you are an obsessed-dedicated pre-War blues aficionado, you really do not need any Blind Boy Fuller in your collection. The man did not have a unique singing ability, did not innovate any particular guitar playing techniques, did not write up any classic tunes (although a small handful of titles still have a strong historic connection to his name), and, overall, would wind up on most people's personal accounts as one blind boy too many.

Still, there must have been a reason why Fulton Allen, a.k.a. Blind Boy Fuller, was one of the hot­test things on the black music market back in his day — «his day» lasting for all of five years, from Blind Boy's first recordings for ARC in 1935 and up to his death of drink-related causes in 1941. Truth is, while there is nothing particularly outstanding or mind-blowing on these records, they sound very, very nice. Building on the already several decades old «Piedmont» tradition, Fuller had himself a clean, professional, entertaining sound which he must have masterminded himself: all of these recordings are as clean and «sharp» as possible for the recording standards of the mid-Thirties. From the modern listener's point of view, switching to this music from Blind Blake or Blind Lemon Jefferson, both of them several times as inventive and unpredictable in their playing as Fuller, will be refreshing if only for the fact that his sound was captured several times as successfully on disc as that of his predecessors.

Although most of the melodies from these early sessions will be instantly recognizable to all lo­vers of bluesy/raggy varieties of Americana, only the title of ʽRag Mama Ragʼ is probably ack­nowledged as a «classic title», since this bit of fast-tempo ragtime blues has been covered many times since (and even become a point of departure for The Band's own ʽRag Mama Ragʼ in 1969, even if musically, their song had nothing whatsoever to do with the original title). Everything about the tune is subtly infectious, particularly Fuller's accomplished, if never spectacular, scat singing, and the only thing that dampens the excitement is that he went on to re-record the exact same thing under several extra titles (in fact, it is repeated immediately after the original couple of takes, at a slightly slower tempo, as ʽBaby You Gotta Change Your Mindʼ).

Another highlight is ʽLog Cabin Bluesʼ, which the average listener usually knows as Robert Johnson's ʽThey're Red Hotʼ (ʽHot Tamalesʼ), recorded a couple years later (but it does not really matter — it's not as if it was Fuller who wrote this melody). It gives us a good chance to enjoy Fuller's playing technique, which was quite accomplished: no eye-popping tricks, but not a single mistake, either, and perfect self-control while singing scat, holding down the rhythm, and playing fast ragtime chords at the same time.

He was also a fairly pleasant slow blues player as well: where a Blind Blake could, for instance, easily «laze» his way through a 12-bar blues, playing minimalistic trivial accompaniment just for the sake of asserting his weight («I'm the greatest anyway, do I really need to prove it one more time?»), Fuller fills even the most generic songs like ʽBaby, I Don't Have To Worryʼ with simple, but effective little flourishes that cleverly mask the tunes' paucity of basic ideas.

But in general slow, pensive blues is not this guy's main line of work: most of his music is suppo­sed to be danced to (ʽTruckin' My Blues Awayʼ, ʽShe's Funny That Wayʼ, etc.), and sounds fairly happy on the surface at least. It is this combination of upbeat friendliness, lightness, professio­nalism, and good recording quality that, in the end, mattered on the market back in its day. And those few people who, these days, keep a well-oiled time machine to pre-war America in their backyard, will probably get to know and like these tunes much more than the rest of us, who, at best, only have a passing historic interest in those days when you didn't have anywhere to plug yourself in while playing the blues. Me, I don't care much for time machines if they take me away from my PC interface, but thumbs up anyway.

Check "Complete Recorded Works Vol. 1" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Complete Recorded Works Vol. 1" (MP3) on Amazon

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