Bumble Bee Slim

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1: (1931-1934)

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The first of nine releases devoted to Slim's music. As with many Document releases, the sound is pretty uneven. But considering that "Rough Rugged Road Blues," and recorded in October of 1931, was one of the last sides ever issued by Paramount, and that no copies were known to exist until 1992, one has to live with the considerable surface noise on that number, and on "Honey Bee Blues," and the even worse sound on "Stumbling Block Blues" and "Yo Yo String Blues" (on which one can barely tell that a song is there beneath the scratchiness). "Chain Gang Bound," by comparison, sounds almost like a modern recording, despite dating from exactly the same era. The six Paramount sides here are the only recordings here on which Slim played his own guitar, and his style is clean and engaging, with some very deft slide playing in evidence. The other cuts, mostly for Vocalion, generally sound considerably better and were recorded with piano accompaniment, or a band with piano and guitars, and they have a more sophisticated urban sound, anticipating R&B more than they resemble Slim's earlier rural-style songs. His vocals are also considerably more expressive and show a far greater range. Slim's Vocalion debut, "Greasy Greens" and "I'm Waiting On You," cut in New York, are remarkable performances for 1932. His subsequent sides were all cut in Chicago, and are more readily identifiable with that city's then-burgeoning blues tradition -- none of the Chicago sides are quite as unexpected as the four New York sides, but they're all eminently listenable. The eight sides cut by Bumble Bee Slim & His Three Sharks -- a pretty fair band featuring piano, guitar, and mandolin -- features "Someday Things Will Be Breaking My Way," a song more familiar to modern listeners as "Sitting On Top of the World" and immortalized by Albert King and Cream. "Runnin' Drunk Blues" is a delightful, sprightly rag; and on the latest songs on this volume, the guitar returns to the fore, most notably on "Dead and Gone Mother," which features three guitars.

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