Various Artists

Down & Out: The Sad Soul of the Black South

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This volume in Trikont's wonderfully eclectic, well-researched, American music series should have been called Dogged Again, the Dirty Blue Soul of the Deep South. Never has a collection of obscure, raging heartbreak songs like these been issued. These are "done wrong" songs, but they have an edge missing in so much of the period's R&B and blues. These songs believe in a love so pure, it can only be consummated by murder, suicide, or an act of divine intervention such is its emotional intensity. Even where the protagonist begs, such as Johnny Copeland on "Down on Bended Knees," there is a rage in his hurt, an anger barely hidden in the cage of his heart. And then there's the suicidal -- literally -- "Dead" by Ede Robin, who sings: "And then there's me along, with a razor in my hand/I remove my watchband." There's a B-3 blazing in the background and Illinois Jacquet blasting out the blues on his tenor before Robin comes back in, begging her lover not to do her "like that." When her spoken vocal whispers out at the end of the tune, we know how it ends. There is just so much bad-assed material here, almost all of it B-sides, discarded tracks, or singles played only on jukeboxes in the bars south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Shouters like Virgil Griffin come out and beg the Lord to abate his loneliness that has reached the pitch of anger. Only a power higher than himself can relieve his fear and misery. Elsewhere, Bill Brandon, Ella Brown, Betty Lavette, James Kelly Duhon, Ella Washington, Geater Adams, Juke Boy Bonner, Percy Mayfield, and even Gashead -- with his underground classic "Why Do You Treat Me Like a Tramp" -- weigh in with tales of domestic problems, and the attempt to survive them. Perhaps nowhere is the desire to transcend these circumstances more evident than O.V. Wright's "Everybody Knows (The River Song)," where he sings, "God, I'm so sad and so scared/I want to go to heaven/but I'm scared to fly." When Joe Medwick follows this will, a gospel blues called "I Cried" with a chorus answering his testimony, trying to hold him up the whole record comes undone, it spills rivers of tears and rage and pain into the listener's space; it would be overwhelming were it not for the powerful groove and roll of the rhythms and arrangements. This is deep soul as it hasn't been presented in a long, long while, if ever. Unadorned, raw, immediate, Down & Out tells a truth so simple and all-encompassing it will be unfathomable to many.

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