Various Artists

Carolina Blues & Gospel

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AllMusic Review by

Here's a peculiar case where the producers at Document came up with a title for a collection of rare African-American music, then began the liner notes with backpedaling caveats as to why some or most of the artists and music within do not fit the stated theme. The first ten tracks were recorded in New York by a small pack of Midwesterners who drop references to Cleveland and appear to have had no discernible links with the Carolinas. That contradiction should not be allowed to distract anyone from the poignant blues and rowdy good humor of electrically amplified guitarists Teddy "Sonny Boy" Smith and Sam Bradley, or their pianist Lonnie Johnson, who should not be confused with the famous blues guitarist and violinist from New Orleans. Undoubtedly, if these recordings (issued under the names of Sonny Boy & Lonnie, Sonnie & Lonnie, Sonny Boy & Sam, Shorty Smith & His Rhythm, or Lightnin' Guitar's Band) were better known today, they would be hailed as "roots of rock & roll" alongside the landmark achievements of B.B. King, Big Joe Williams, and Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. The upbeat numbers were obviously tapping into the embryonic undercurrents of rock & roll as they existed in 1945, and there is a rambunctious edge to some of the vocal delivery that brings to mind Doctor Clayton, Tampa Red, Sunnyland Slim, and even Fats Waller. "I Wonder Who's Holding You," on the other hand, closely resembles previously mentioned King recording star Lonnie Johnson's approach to the romantic sentimental lament. "Bigheaded Woman" contains some very funny lines about loving and fearing a woman who sleeps with her eyes wide open like a rattlesnake. In his "South West Pacific Blues," Sonny Boy anticipates J.B. Lenoir's Korean War-era blues by opening up and revisiting the ordeal of conscription and separation from loved ones during the Second World War, including an apparent reference to Finschhafen, a town in New Guinea which was liberated from Japanese occupation by Australian troops during the autumn of 1943. Mary DeLoatch, also known as Mary DeLoach, was a Norfolk, VA-based gospel singer who used the name Marylin Scott or Marylyn Scott the Carolina Blues Girl when performing rhythm & blues tunes like "I Got What My Daddy Likes" and the "Beer Bottle Boogie." When her devotional self took over, this guitar-strumming, pleasant voiced woman sounded more than a little like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She switched to exclusively religious material after 1950 and her final recording appears to have been made in 1967 when she was photographed playing an electric guitar while wearing evangelical robes. DeLoatch/Scott's recordings as heard on this compilation were made in Charlotte, Atlanta, and New York for six different labels during the years 1945-1951, with backing by bassist Len Currie's quartet (including soulful saxophonists Herbert Reeder and Obie Rells); a small ensemble led by drummer Johnny Otis, and several different gospel-affiliated groups composed of anonymous instrumentalists and unidentified backup vocalists. This wonderful collection of inspired and inspirational music is recommended for anyone who is interested in the mingled developments of postwar gospel and rhythm & blues.

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