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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Charley Patton: Complete Recordings Vol. 4


1) Some Summer Day; 2) Bird Nest Bound; 3) Future Blues; 4) M&O Blues; 5) Walkin' Blues; 6) My Black Mama, Pt. 1; 7) My Black Mama, Pt. 2; 8) Preachin' The Blues, Pt. 1; 9) Preachin' The Blues, Pt. 2; 10) Dry Spell Blues, Pt. 1; 11) Dry Spell Blues, Pt. 2; 12) All Night Long Blues (take 1); 13) On The Wall; 14) All Night Long Blues (take 2); 15) By The Moon And Stars; 16) Long Ways From Home.

This fourth disc takes the idea of «completeness» to a whole new level — only the first two out of sixteen (!) tracks here are actually by Patton, the rest of them divided between blues guitarist Willie Brown; the legendary Son House; and a gifted, but completely unknown singer and pianist by the name of Louise Johnson. Allegedly, Patton may be sitting in on second guitar on a couple of the Son House tunes, and apparently, he also contributes some «response vocals» on several of Johnson's tracks, but mostly his presence on all this stuff is in spirit — he just happened to be sharing the recording studio with all these guys on one or more sunny (or not so sunny) days in June 1930, in the same old studio in Grafton, Wisconsin. (For the record, many of these tracks — but not including Patton's — were previously released on an obscure LP called Legendary Sessions Delta Style: The Famous 1930 Paramount Recordings In Chronological Order, at least one European pressing of which is said to date back to 1973.)

Which means that there is not that much to review here: Son House is awesome, but he should be talked about on his own page in his own time — although we might use this as a pretext to men­tion that, despite all the obvious similarities, Son House's playing and singing style, being the direct predecessor to and major influence on Muddy Waters, is much closer to the familiar Chicago patterns than Patton's playing or singing, and gives the impression of being more con­cerned about «tightness» and «showmanship» at the same time. Louise Johnson is a rare example of a lady singing and «tinkling the ivories» all at once, and she is fairly powerful at the piano, and it is fun to discover ʻOn The Wallʼ, a newly lyricized version of Charles Davenport's ʻCow Cow Bluesʼ, one of the earliest examples of New Orleanian blues boogie that would later go on to become Ahmet Ertegün's and Ray Charles' ʻMess Aroundʼ. But there's just not enough material by her, really, to get to know her real proper. And Willie Brown? He's just another attempt at a Blind Willie Johnson clone (vocal-wise, at least) that probably went for a dime a dozen back in 1929-30 — sorry, Willie.

Which leaves us with the two Patton songs, one of which (ʻSome Summer Dayʼ) is just a cover of ʻSittin' On Top Of The Worldʼ, following on the heels of the success of the Mississipi Sheiks' original version; and the second one, ʻBird Nest Boundʼ, with Brown on guitar, is just a run-of-the-mill example of the man's singing, with nothing particularly exciting about it.

Curious, too, because the backstory goes that Paramount were actually after Patton in 1930, and that he'd arrived in Grafton from Lula, Mississippi, with Brown, Louise Johnson, and Son House in tow — he'd just befriended House at the time and put him under his patronage, as the latter was an unknown nobody at the time; yet somehow, in the end, Paramount ended up recording his retinue instead of the Big Man himself. (Furthermore, none of the commercially released Son House records managed to sell well at the time, and the man did not record commercially again for several decades after that!). One can only guess why Charley was not in the mood to cut a significant number of sides that summer. Regardless, taken together, the whole thing is still a classy many-faced document of the times — and, besides, sometimes the «tell me who's your friend» principle goes a long way towards a better understanding of the artist himself.

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