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Monday, April 7, 2014

Bukka White: Big Daddy


1) Black Cat Bone Blues; 2) 1936 Triggertoe; 3) Crying Holy Unto The Lord; 4) Shake My Hand Blues; 5) Sic 'Em Dogs On; 6) Gibson Hill; 7) Mama Don' 'Low; 8) Hot Springs Arkansas; 9) Jelly Roll Morton Man; 10) Black Crepe Blues; 11) Glory Bound Train; 12) Aberdeen Mississippi Blues; 13) Hobo Blues.

While this album, recorded just three years prior to Bukka's demise from cancer, corrects the blunder of Memphis Hot Shots, no longer trying to recast the artist in a wholly unsuitable image, I cannot honestly say that Big Daddy generates much inspiration. Unless you have pre-generated yourself the mindset of "big old blues legend with acoustic guitar = I'm loving it!", I am not sure that these recordings could serve as a good introduction to the world of archaic country blues in general, or Bukka White as its particular representative.

Here he is, all on his own with nothing but the guitar to provide company, running through a se­lection of the usual classics, mixed in with a few obscurities or rearrangements (ʽJelly Roll Mor­ton Manʼ is the same as ʽGibson Hillʼ, with a new set of lyrics — and, come to think of it, ʽHobo Bluesʼ is also the exact same song). As the man gets ever older, his voice gets ever gruffer and closer to that Howlin' Wolf standard, but that's just the problem: it doesn't quite rise up to the same standard, but it does reduce all of the songs to just about the same emotional state, roughly translated as «don't mess around with the man», which is not how it used to be in pre-war years.

Likewise, Bukka's guitar playing is not what it used to be. «Deteriorating» is not the right word for it, since he can still send off those slide runs like he used to, and slap those strings with the same brute force when necessary. But something seems missing — I'm not exactly sure what, but maybe that would simply be the will to come up with free-flowing guitar phrasing on the spur of the moment, rather than relying on «fossilized», thoroughly predictable stock lines. Naturally, this cannot be construed as an accusation — nobody really expects an inventive, energetic pulse from a 65-year old bluesman — but it also means that, whatever the popular stereotype might be, a young bluesman with a guitar is still generally preferable to an old bluesman with a guitar. Es­pecially when the old bluesman's guitar starts getting rather dangerously out of tune towards the end of the session...

Anyway, the bottomline is simply that there is nothing «wrong» with Big Daddy, but forty mi­nutes of it will most likely get you bored, and it will add nothing to your understanding of the man and his history, except formal proof that the man did retain enough vocal and instrumental competence right up to his final years. But you probably could guess that as it is, couldn't you?

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