Sylvester Weaver

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1 (1923-1927)

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Most of Sylvester Weaver's recorded works were reissued in his name by the Document label in the early '90s, and the first of two volumes covers most of his recording activity from November 1923 through August 1927. Weaver's initial appearance on records was as accompanist to blues singer Sara Martin, and while Document bundled most of their collaborations into Martin's four-volume Complete Recorded Works, she pops up here and there on this collection under the pseudonym Sally Roberts. "Where Shall I Be?" and "I Am Happy in Jesus" are sung by Weaver, "Roberts," and Hayes B. Withers. Two more gospel songs -- "I'm Going to Wait on the Lord" and "There's Plenty Room ‘Way in the Kingdom" -- were recorded by this vocal trio but do not appear to have been reissued anywhere. Six additional titles are Weaver/"Roberts" blues duets. "Steel String Blues" is an instrumental number played by Weaver, banjoist Charles Washington, and violinist E.L. Coleman, under whose name the record was originally issued. The rest of this collection is devoted to Weaver's solo guitar (with occasional vocal) or banjo ("Six-String Banjo Piece" and "Damfino Stomp"). Weaver was among the first blues guitarists ever to make records, and his slide technique is a marvel unto itself. Note that little or no remastering was employed to improve the sound quality of these historic OKeh sides. While some may bristle at having to hear this music exactly as it sounded when rising up off the surface of the original 78-rpm platters, that kind of authentic listening experience can and does have merit. Admittedly, it would be nice to hear the 1923 version of his famous "Guitar Rag" (later to become a staple of Western swing via the efforts of Bob Wills) in a slightly "cleaner" transfer using state-of-the-art noise reduction technology, but it is a fact that every technological advance has potential drawbacks and many early blues connoisseurs will swear by these authentic transfers, warts and all. Indeed, the way the tones emerge through a gentle mist of 78 rpm surface noise has a marvelous charm all its own, and for this reason, the strongest link to the atmosphere surrounding Weaver and his instrument when "Guitar Blues" and "Guitar Rag" were cut on November 2, 1923 might well be the unmodified playback experience described here. Of course, the 1927 remake of "Guitar Rag" was recorded using the new electrical process, so it sounds clearer and less scratchy. Generally speaking, this is a fine collection of rare early blues with a bit of gospel in the mix. It may be enjoyed casually while relaxing at home with trusted friends or loved ones who are willing and able to absorb this kind of magic without worrying about impressing those whose elevated technocratic expectations deprive them of the patience or sensitivity necessary for an intimate brush with history.

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