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Monday, September 3, 2012

Bo Carter: Complete Recorded Works Vol. 5


1) Let's Get Drunk Again; 2) Some Day; 3) Old Devil; 4) Country Fool; 5) Santa Claus; 6) Be My Salty Dog; 7) Five Dollar Bill; 8) Ways Like A Crawfish; 9) Brown-Skin Woman; 10) Lucille, Lucille; 11) The Country Farm Blues; 12) Border Of New Mexico Blues; 13) Arrangement For Me Blues; 14) Lock The Lock; 15) Trouble, Oh Trouble; 16) Baby Ruth; 17) My Baby; 18) Policy Blues; 19) Tush Hog Blues; 20) My Little Mind; 21) Honey; 22) What You Want Your Daddy To Do.

At some time in the mid- or late 1930s, Bo Carter is reported to have become Blind Bo Carter; and, although the blindness factor never prevented many of his competitors to find and hold on to success, for Bo it was one of the factors that contributed to the decline of his career — probably coupled with other reasons, of course, such as obligatory alcohol abuse and the general decline in popularity of acoustic blues. As late as 1940, he was still recording at his usual rate for the Blue­bird label, but then the recordings stop abruptly, and for the next twenty-four years right until his death in 1964, there is no information on any subsequent recording activities.

Whether it was the blindness or other personal troubles haunting him at the time, recordings from these two last years are not much fun: once again, Bo reverts to «generic» blues, leaving behind most of his colorful double entendres. Many of these tunes are, in fact, recorded in the Robert Johnson vein: it wouldn't be surprising to learn that Bo caught wind of Robert's death, and tried to recast himself as Johnson's successor — at the very least, some of these tracks so deliberately try to copy Johnson's melodies and moods (e. g. ʽBorder Of New Mexico Bluesʼ rewrites ʽSweet Home Chicagoʼ) that a coincidence is unthinkable.

Not that this works as anything other than a curio: Bo's vocals do not have the faintest trace of Johnson's insecurity / vulnerability, and his playing, although, perhaps, at this point not any less complex per se than Johnson's, is nowhere near his choppy, aggressive style. Robert Johnson was, as far as we can tell, a possessed man; Bo Carter was just an agreeable country sleazeball.

Anyway, the only track on this last volume that stands out at least a little is ʽLet's Get Drunk Againʼ, because Bo did relatively few «drinking songs» in his career, and for this one, adopted his best «crooner / yodeller» pose and even thought of an original guitar flourish. Another track that could have been a standout is ʽOld Devil Bluesʼ, quite an ancient folk standard with some impressive finger-flashing picking — except it also fits in the «why can't I be like Robert?» cate­gory and inevitably loses out in the competition due to lackluster singing.

All in all, once you take all the five volumes into consideration, the final verdict is obvious — pick ten to twelve of the man's riskiest songs about wieners, cushions, biscuits, and pig meat, throw in two or three «serious» exercises for good measure, and you got yourself more of The Bo Carter Experience than you'll ever need. Maybe if the old man actually knew his records would be collected, remastered, and reissued long past his glory days, he would bother assigning them a little more individuality. Then again, he probably wouldn't give a damn anyway, as long as the public kept buying the stuff.

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