Chris Thomas King

The Legend of Tommy Johnson, Act 1: Genesis 1900's-1990's

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Inspired by his screen debut as Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Chris Thomas King takes a whirlwind tour through 80 years of blues history on this unique concept album. He begins a cappella, with a song written on the movie set but not used in the soundtrack, proceeds through several pared-down period covers (Tommy Johnson's "Canned Heat Blues" and Blind Willie Johnson's "Trouble Will Soon Be Over") and originals written and played in a similar mode, and then plugs into the postwar Chicago era and kicks up a full band for the closing tracks. Before his casting in O Brother, King specialized in a rap-blues hybrid rather than in prewar country blues, and there are many other revivalists who play in this style with more authority then he shows on, for instance, the slide piece "Flooded in the Delta" (inspired by the movie's climactic flood scene). He fares much better on "Watermelon Man," an entertaining yarn built over a Bukka White-style one-chord groove, and on electric rockers like "Do Fries Go With That Shake?" and "Red Shoes." Throughout the album, King proves himself a soulful singer and versatile multi-instrumentalist, more interested in melody than in the soloing calisthenics heard in so much contemporary blues.

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