Big Maceo

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Born in Atlanta GA in 1905, Major "Big Maceo" Merriweather was a formidable blues and boogie pianist whose career was cut short by health issues that took him out in 1953 at the age of 47. The first comprehensive Big Maceo collection to appear in the post-78 rpm era was Chicago Breakdown, a Bluebird LP two-fer with copious informative liner notes released in 1975. Subsequently, Maceo's work was systematically reissued on CD by RCA/Bluebird, Arhoolie, Fabulous, and Document. An 19-track "best-of" collection released in 2005 on the Blues Forever label will work well as an introductory dose. This chronologically scrambled edition covers most of his recording career, opening with four selections from a February 1947 session during which Eddie Boyd handled the piano while partially paralyzed stroke survivor Maceo sang the blues as powerfully and passionately as ever. What distinguishes this and any other Big Maceo collection is in fact the man's husky, warm, profoundly expressive voice. Prime examples are the "Worried Life Blues," an early effort recorded in June 1941; "Maceo's 32-20" which describes an armed and very jealous man on the prowl, and its logical sequel, the "County Jail Blues." Ambling, respiring blues like these are important links with fundamental human truths, and the unhurried pace is sure to grow on you. The only actual boogie on this album is the rocking instrumental "Chicago Breakdown." Supporting players include guitarist Tampa Red, bassists Ransom Knowling, and Ernest "Big" Crawford, and drummer Clifford "Snags" Jones. If this little taste leaves you craving more Maceo, go for one of the complete chronological editions. If you're itching for more boogie, chase down the "Texas Stomp" and its flipside, the "Detroit Jump," but remember that this man didn't record a whole lot of lively material. He didn't have to. Most of Big Maceo's music is paced like a heartbeat, and conveys insights about human nature that are fathoms deep and miles wide.

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