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Monday, February 17, 2014

Buddy Moss: Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1


1) Bye Bye Mama; 2) Daddy Don't Care; 3) Red River Blues; 4) Cold Country Blues; 5) Prowling Woman; 6) TB's Killing Me; 7) When I'm Dead And Gone; 8) Hard Time Blues; 9) Prowlin' Gambler Blues; 10) Hard Road Blues; 11) Jealous Hearted Man; 12) Midnight Rambler; 13) Best Gal; 14) Restless Night Blues; 15) Married Man Blues; 16) Somebody Keeps Calling Me; 17) Back To My Used To Be; 18) Back To My Used To Be No. 2; 19) Can't Use You No More; 20) Can't Use You No More No. 2; 21) Travelin' Blues; 22) Bachelor's Blues; 23) Broke Down Engine.

Wherever Buddy Moss is not falling through the cracks of history, sources tend to present him as a sort of «missing link» between Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller — the inelegant part of this view being that Buddy Moss wasn't blind, and the elegant part of it being that his peak career period did fall on those exact years when Blind Blake was already gone, and Blind Boy Fuller did not yet start recording, namely, 1933-34. On the other hand, Buddy himself vehemently denied being influenced by anybody (liar liar), and his own influence on Fuller is debatable. Best stra­tegy would simply be to take the man on his own terms.

Actually, judging at least by Buddy's earliest recordings, his playing style, temperament, and musical attitude were quite different from both of these visually challenged gentlemen. In parti­cu­lar, he played very little of that «Piedmont», ragtime-oriented blues — Blind Blake's style was fast, jerky, entertaining, bodily-provocative, but Buddy strictly sticks to the slow 12-bar form, very canonical, very clean, mostly devoid of individualistic twists, yet with an extremely profes­sional and dexterously flowing sound. Modern listeners will find nothing particularly revealing about this form, but it seems to have been relatively rare on the streets of Atlanta in 1933, domi­nated as they were by Blind Willie McTell's ʽGeorgia Ragʼ and stuff.

On the whole, Buddy's sound should probably be considered as one of the closest predecessors of Chicago blues — even more so than Robert Johnson, who usually worked alone, whereas Buddy, on many, if not most, of his recordings is accompanied by a second guitarist (usually Curley Wea­ver), giving them a fuller, «band-like» sound: if you just added some electricity, you'd have yourself a 1953 as early as 1933. On the technical side, Buddy is a much more skilled lead player than Johnson: be it straight or slide, the best part of all these blues is invariably the solo, where he plays varied, fluent, expressive runs, very precise, very well put together, less imaginative and unpredictable than, say, Blind Lemon Jefferson's, but pretty much unmatched by any other for­malistic 12-bar guru in the business at the time. And if there was one guitarist from whom Elmore James was likely to cop his famous ʽDust My Broomʼ lick, Buddy is as good a candidate as any (ʽTB's Killing Meʼ, ʽWhen I'm Dead And Goneʼ).

The downside is obvious, too: of the 23 tracks on this first volume of his legacy that captures most of the 1933 experience, just about every single one is completely interchangeable with every other one. Occasionally, he switches from regular acoustic to slide, and from one backing guita­rist to another, but the tempos and basic structures stay consistently the same, and unless you are a maniacal 12-bar fanatic, there is no reason whatsoever why you should listen to more than two or three songs at a time (sound quality, by the way, shifts quite significantly from tune to tune, but about half of the songs have a very tolerable level of crackling — which is nice to know, con­sidering Columbia's typically less-than-royal quality treatment of its country blues artists).

On a trivia note, it is funny that one of the tracks here is called ʽMidnight Ramblerʼ — nothing to do with the Stones classic, but giving a rather precise indication as to how the bad boys came up with that title; Buddy's tune, in comparison, is quite harmless and inoffensive, infused with the regular blues yearning and moaning, but without any traces of psychopathology. In fact, as far as we know, Buddy himself was a fairly easy-going, friendly fellow, thoroughly uninterested in cul­tivating any mystical or «spiritually driven» image of himself — his singing is pleasant, but per­functory, his antics / gimmicks / special sonic tricks are non-existent, and his only real love / in­terest lies in making that guitar sing the blues. A completely one-trick pony here, but give the pony a break — it takes a little genius to perform that trick so well.

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