Various Artists

Biddle Street Barrelhousin'

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The majority of these recordings from St. Louis-based blues pianists have never been issued. They represent a fading slice of American music that was barely documented, so this is more of an historical issue. Speckled Red, Henry Brown, James Crutchfield, James "Stump" Johnson, and Lawrence Henry are the participants, and each has his own style. Speckled Red gets the most play on seven of the 19 tracks, bookending and appearing in the middle of the program. Red is perhaps the most talented of the lot, but also is clearly undisciplined. He's sloppy and rushed, tossing extra measures on "Oh Red"; he also talks about a man in Detroit who taught him "Dad's Blues," echoes a Roosevelt Sykes vocal style during "Goin' Down Slow," gets raspy on "Milk Cow Blues," is gruffly outrageous on "Black Gal," goes wack on "All on Account of You," and is more controlled for the boogie instrumental "Wilkins Street Stomp." Crutchfield is the star of this set, with six tracks. He uses a slow tempo with frantic improv and serene, soulful singing on "Levee Blues," scats lightly in bebop fashion with a drummer on brushes for "Blow North Wind," does a classic take of the classic "How Long Blues," and sings "that's alright, I'm wondering who's lovin' my baby tonight" during "Ora-Nellie Blues." Crutchfield is a softie at heart, represented on the tender and delicate "Black Gal," and can be deliberate with intense chords for the slow, carefree, dee-dee-dee vocalized "Pearly Mae Blues." Brown gets two shots: the straight 12-bar, half-instrumental/half-talking "21st Street Stomp," and the talkin' trash boogie blues "Goin' Down to Becky Thatcher." Brown does the classics "St. Louis" and "Memphis Blues" -- the former a rousing barrelhouse take with original lyrics about his women and the Red Sox and Cardinals baseball teams, and the latter a ragtime blues with chiming chords. "Stump" is the anomalous key here, one who never really wanted to record. He does a short instrumental titled "Snitcher's Blues" (would have loved to hear a lyric on this one) and a patient "Blues for Lindy." The recording quality is acceptable, not great, and the information about recording dates and back-up musicians is nonexistent; regardless, this is a potent reminder that this tradition has roots other than New Orleans, Chicago, or in the deep South. St. Louis was a hotbed, and here's the proof.

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