Monkey Joe

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1 (1935-39)

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Jesse "Monkey Joe" Coleman's first 26 extant sides, two accompanying Lulu Scott but otherwise all him, including the singing. Coleman's voice is a kind of high tenor, very distinctive and expressive, while his piano style is lively and highly percussive -- he loved to pound those ivories -- lending itself to a very animated performing style. His New Orleans Bluebird sessions, accompanied by guitarist Walter Vincson, yielded four very outgoing numbers in which the piano and guitar compete very loudly and effectively for the listener's attention. The Illinois sessions from three years later have Coleman generally working in a much more restrained manner, achieving greater subtlety in his singing while his piano mixes quietly with Charlie McCoy's mandolin and guitar. Occasionally, however, he'd revert to his older sound on songs like "Hair Parted In the Middle," a wonderful rocking little number. The songs are generally first-rate, and it's a surprise that Coleman didn't find a bigger audience for his records. The Lulu Scott numbers fit together very well with Coleman's own stuff, since his piano playing (leading the accompaniment) is so similar to that on his own music, and he joins her on vocals for one number. Her version of "Everybody Do the Shag" alone is almost worth the cost of the CD, and Coleman's "Taxes On My Pole" is one of the more comically suggestive blues numbers you're likely to hear. The sound quality is more than acceptable on the early numbers, with no overly poor sources -- the later material, from 1938-39, beginning with "Just Out of the Big House," which still sounds good, suffer from increasing noise, but one suspects these were the best copies available, and they're still acceptable.

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