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Monday, June 11, 2012

Blind Lemon Jefferson: Complete Recording Sessions Vol. 4


1) Eagle Eyed Mama; 2) Dynamite Blues; 3) Disgusted Blues  ; 4) Competition Bed Blues; 5) Sad News Blues; 6) Peach Orchard Blues; 7) Oil Well Blues; 8) Tin Cup Blues; 9) Big Night Blues; 10) Empty House Blues; 11) Sa­tur­day Night Spender Blues; 12) That Black Snake Moan No. 2; 13) Bed Springs Blues; 14) Yo Yo Blues; 15) Mos­qui­to Moan; 16) Southern Woman Blues; 17) Bakershop Blues; 18) Pneumonia Blues; 19) Long Distance Moan; 20) That Crawlin' Baby Blues; 21) Fence Breakin' Yellin' Blues; 22) Cat Man Blues; 23) The Cheaters Spell; 24) Bootin' Me 'Bout.

It would be nice to be able to say that Blind Lemon managed to «rebound» in the last year of his life, but he didn't. Most of these recordings are slow, steady, relatively formulaic blues pieces that focus on the man's singing rather than playing. Only once, towards the very very end, does he all of a sudden remember the way it used to be — ʽThat Crawlin' Baby Bluesʼ is a merry-rollickin' series of guitar fireworks, almost up to the standarts of ʽRabbit Foot Bluesʼ, played with plenty of fire and abandon. Which makes the context look even more strange, proving that the man did not «forget» how to be amazing, but really, truly, consciously chose not to.

The rest of the recordings range from very simple and feeble-sounding performances (ʽEagle Eyed Mamaʼ) to slightly more inventive, but monotonous (ʽDynamite Bluesʼ, built on a series of pretty flourishes that all sound the same, gruesomely discrediting the title), to occasional slow-growers (ʽBed Spring Bluesʼ, strummed quietly and lazily, but in reality with lots of interesting chord changes that require pressing your ear close to the speaker). On the lyrical side, there is a clear tendency to emphasize «dirty» subjects and double entendres — a tendency that, oddly enough, is frequently noticeable among pre-war blues-rockers as they grow in fame and fortune... somebody should probably inform Mick Jagger.

Blind Lemon's last session was held on September 24, 1929 – exactly one month prior to «Black Thursday»; Blind Lemon's death date is usually listed as December 19, 1929. No, he didn't die of a heart attack because his stocks were lost; the most likely version is that he froze to death, being lost in a snowstorm – drunk, presumably? In any case, it is somewhat telling that he never sur­vived into the Depression era, missing the chance to become one of its great bards, like Charlie Patton. These recordings from 1928-29 clearly see him veering further and further into «urban­ized» territory, a safer and quieter harbor, moderately attractive for conservatively minded black and white audiences alike.

And there is nothing wrong with that — except that this move to «higher ground» almost cost the man his integrity. Chances are, had he survived into the 1930s or even later, his early records would be regarded as somewhat of a «crazy anomaly», created in his younger, reckless, wildest days. (Actually, something similar would happen to Big Bill Broonzy, whose earliest records are also his most interesting from a technical standpoint). As it is, we have a fifty-fifty type of pro­portion, and it is not surprising that most of the compilations prefer to focus on the first fifty: Ya­zoo's The Best Of features 17 selections from 1925-27, 4 dated 1928, and only 2 dated 1929. I totally agree with that ratio.