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Monday, December 23, 2013

Brownie McGhee: Blues Is Truth


1) The Blues Had A Baby; 2) I'm Going To Keep On Loving; 3) Walk On; 4) Rainy Day; 5) Christina; 6) Don't Dog Your Woman; 7) Mean And Evil; 8) Wine Sporty Orty; 9) Blues Is Truth; 10) Bunkhouse; 11) Key To The Highway; 12) Blues On Parade.

Formally speaking, Brownie McGhee had a veritable shitload of albums released for the listening pleasures of Greenwich Village crusaders in the last four decades of his life, but most of them were released as part of the «Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee» duo act, where Sonny was usu­ally billed first and Brownie humbly came second (although there were multiple exceptions, too). In any case, we will use this as a loophole to postpone reviews of some of these albums (talking separately about each of them would be cruel and unwarranted punishment, considering that, as ru­mor has it, almost every show that the two played together in any club or cafeteria had been captured on tape, not to mention studio sessions).

As for Brownie solo, he had considerably few sessions in comparison, and most of those are not altogether easy to find or not particularly worth finding. I will limit myself to this one album, recor­ded in May 1976 with a bunch of friends at Minot Sound Studios in White Plains, NY; friends included Bobby Foster and Louisiana Red on guitars, Sugar Blue on harmonica, Sammy Price on piano, Alex Blake on bass, and Brian Brake on drums — actually, one hell of a band, when you start researching all of these guys' pedigrees, and, since Brownie himself only plays acoustic guitar and sings, his presence here is more of a «guiding hand» than of a legendary do­minator — he conducts, gives orders on soloing, but his personal role in this friendly get-together is limited; then again, when you got such a great band playing for you, keeping a low profile might just be the most sensible thing to do anyway.

As easily as I usually get bored with generic electric blues albums, these twelve songs keep the fun quotient high and the friendly atmosphere dense throughout. There is a sensible level of di­versity as they pay tribute to multiple blues styles (Chicago, Delta, New Orleans; even jump blues is covered with a version of Stick McGhee's ʽDrinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Deeʼ, here retitled as ʽWine Sporty Ortyʼ), and almost everybody gets to shine one way or another — Louisiana Red and his slinky slide leads are the obvious number one pretender, but the real musical superhero of the album is Alex Blake, whose bass parts are completely individual and independent, and often have much more to say than the guitars of his colleagues.

Curiously, the album kicks off with a newly written tune, ʽThe Blues Had A Babyʼ ("and they named it rock­'n'roll"), which would fairly soon be appropriated by Muddy Waters for his come­back LP, Hard Again — considering that there is fairly little rock'n'roll on this record, but I guess that this was just a subtle reminder of sorts, Brownie's message to the kids about how there is more to life than rock'n'roll, and Blues Is Truth in general is not a bad way to prove that.

It is interesting, however, that there are no signs here whatsoever of Brownie's original vibe, the entertainment-oriented, bluesman-meets-hillbilly-style «Piedmont blues»; above everything else, Brownie knew very well who the buying clientele would be — white college kids — and what the clientele would want to hear (Chicago teachers of white electric bluesmen). I am not going as far as to suggest that ʽKey To The Highwayʼ was included due to the song's popularization by Eric Clapton, but this could have been one of the factors, too. Not that this is a complaint or any­thing — with Blake's basslines and Red's guitar playing, the album goes down easily and plea­santly, and anybody who'd try to put down a 1915-born popular entertainer for «giving the people exactly what they want» would have to have no sensibility whatsoever. In any case, for an album of this kind, Blues Is Truth is seriously above average level, and clearly deserves a thumbs up.

Check "Blues Is Truth" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. "anybody who'd try to put down a 1915-born popular entertainer for «giving the people exactly what they want» would have to have no sensibility whatsoever."
    This was precisely what Deep Purple Mark II and Dio-era Rainbow shows were about and we never hear that complaint about them. Generally people only like surprises within strict limits; inserting Metallica in a Mozart opera just for the sake of it isn't a good idea either. This even applies to Robert Zimmermann etc: his fans expect them to not give a shit.
    A solipsist artist doesn't make sense.

  2. MNB your ability to connect any part of musical history to Deep Purple is inspiring. You should come up with a Six Degrees of Purple search engine or something!