Complete 1931 Recordings in Chronological Order

Skip James

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Complete 1931 Recordings in Chronological Order Review

by Steve Leggett

With his high, eerie falsetto and haunting guitar tunings, Skip James sounds like no other country blues player. Although his lyrics were generally drawn from the floating bag of clich├ęs that showed up in countless blues songs, his atmospheric recordings, done in 1931 for Paramount, gave James' songs the appearance of poignancy, and his sad, lonely vocal style made them all seem heartfelt. When he was rediscovered in the mid-'60s, his skills were still intact, and he made several solid recordings for Vanguard and other labels, but his reputation really rests on the 18 tracks from the 1930s presented here. "Devil Got My Woman," "Cypress Grove Blues," and "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" are all one of a kind classics, as are "I'm So Glad" (later covered by Cream) and "Illinois Blues," both of which contain kinetic acoustic guitar breaks that simply explode out of the verses. James was also a pretty interesting piano player, and his playing on "If You Haven't Any Hay Get on Down the Road" sounds again like no other country blues pianist. This collection duplicates what is found on both the Document and Yazoo releases, and it matters little which one you pick up. All three come from the same sources, and all have the same amount of snaps, cracks, and hailstone hiss in all the same places. Don't let that stop you, though, because these are beautiful and maverick performances, and essential for a good blues collection.

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