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Monday, May 14, 2012

Blind Boy Fuller: Complete Recorded Works Vol. 6 (1940)


BLIND BOY FULLER: COMPLETE RECORDED WORKS, VOL. 6 (1940)

1) Blue And Worried Man; 2) Passenger Train Woman; 3) Shake It, Baby; 4) Somebody's Been Talkin'; 5) Three Ball Blues; 6) Little Woman, You're So Sweet; 7) Harmonica Stomp; 8) Good Feeling Blues; 9) You Can't Hide From The Lord; 10) Twelve Gates To The City; 11) Crooked Woman Blues; 12) I Don't Want No Skinny Woman; 13) Bus Rider Blues; 14) You Got To Have Your Dollar; 15) Lost Lover Blues; 16) Thousand Woman Blues; 17) Bye Bye, Baby; 18) When You Are Gone; 19) No Stranger Now; 20) Must Have Been My Jesus; 21) Jesus Is A Holy Man; 22) Precious Lord; 23) Night Rambling Woman.

Fuller's last two sessions date from March and June 1940, both of them in the company of Sonny Terry on harmonica and Bull City Red on washboard. The three of them gel best under conditions of complete democracy — ʽHarmonica Stompʼ is a lot of fun, with Fuller adding bits of semi-scat falsetto for rowdiness' sakes — unfortunately, these conditions are rarely met, and most of the time we just get more rehashes of the same old blues and ragtime stereotypes.

The only notable change is that both times, Fuller adds gospel to the repertoire: starting with ʽTwelve Gates To The Cityʼ, originally popularized by the Rev. Gary Davis, and ending with the spiritual rave-up of ʽJesus Is A Holy Manʼ. This comes off as a bit of surprise, since appeals to the Lord were not a known part of the man's repertoire — in fact, he usually preferred sin to re­pen­tance. It is possible, that with his steadily failing health and all, he was trying to get a last mi­nute ticket. None of these gospel covers, however, would fare all too well in restoring his position at the Lord's knees: Fuller's voice is too weak to stir up religious enthusiasm, and his guitar tricks are much better suited for fun-oriented songs than serious praise-the-lord material.

He does develop a tired, worn out, «authentic» rasp towards the end of the last session, sugges­ting total exhaustion — but maybe he was just tired on that particular evening. Overall, the ses­sion was quite Robert Johnson-ish in nature, all dark, depressing blues with nary a single good time rag stomp to be found. Blind Boy Fuller's death date is usually cited as February 13, 1941, but it is also known that he underwent a serious surgical operation in July 1940, which probably explains all this descent into bleakness and preachiness. Alas, I cannot honestly say that either of these translates into great music — they just add a few logical final touches to the portrait.

Altogether, as is already evident by now, the six CDs that are needed to cover all of Blind Boy Fuller's legacy are murderous overkill: my intuitive best-guess estimate is that he recorded every single melody in his repertoire at least three or four times, and some of them as much as ten or twelve. Yet the very fact that he actually got the chance to record so much — a chance that was never available for quite a few of his superior colleagues — is quite telling: he was treasured for sheer reliability. Most of his major achievements may already be found on the first two volumes of this set — but each and every volume is fully listenable; even in his last year, Fuller never showed any decline in professionalism. For six steady years, his blues machine rolled on without a hitch, and it might have rolled on for decades longer, had not God suddenly felt an acute desire to hear ʽLog Cabin Bluesʼ live. Must have worn out his stack of 45s.

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