Various Artists

Down in Black Bottom: Barrelhouse Mamas

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Much of Barrelhouse Mamas makes it a great companion to the now-standard Copulatin' Blues, being a collection of 23 songs featuring blueswomen singing of sex, drunkenness, and general debauchery, with the occasional cautionary song thrown in. The majority of this collection is piano blues (with a notable guitar sneaking in occasionally), and ranges from the elegant Dorethea Trowbridge's "Bad Luck Blues") to the stomping and sexual, which is most of the disc. Indeed, the material on this CD is of almost as much interest for the accompanists (including Little Brother Montgomery and Speckled Red) as the singers, who are pretty formidable in their own right. The opening number, "State Street Jive," offers Ivy Smith half talking and shouting her way through a rippling piano blues by Cow Cow Davenport. "Dawn of Day Blues" is beautifully sung by Mary Johnson, the one-time spouse of Lonnie Johnson, and if her expressive singing isn't enough to pull you in, check out the slide guitar of Tampa Red backing her up, and Judson Brown's barrelhouse piano behind Red. St. Louis Bessie, aka Bessie Mae Smith, dominated "Meat Cutter Blues" with her vocal performance on lyrics that leave little to the imagination, about a woman complaining her man hasn't cut her meat and her damper needs turning down. Lucille Bogan's rollicking "Alley Boogie" and her slower "They Ain't Walkin' No More" both feature an unnamed pianist of uncommon dexterity who's worth hearing on his own terms. Margaret Thornton's one and only record, cut in 1927, is a crying shame because it was her only record -- anyone who could have as much fun with a song as she does with "Jockey Blues" should've gotten more opportunity than that. Freddy Brown presents two sides of her persona here, the playful and suggestive "Whip It to a Jelly" and the serious, almost ominous-sounding "Raised in the Alley Blues," which is an even better performance, highlighted by the singer's brilliantly vamped keening over the break in the middle. Speaking of ominous, "Satan Is Busy in Knoxville" by Leola Manning tells of a series of unsolved murders in the city of the title at the outset of the 1930s.

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