Various Artists

Down in Black Bottom: Lowdown Barrelhouse Piano

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In addition to their indispensable compilations devoted to the bluesmen and women of the 1920s and 1930s, Yazoo has delivered a number of excellent, topical country blues sets as well. Though not always as essential as the single-artist discs, they are nonetheless valuable on both musical and historical terms. Released simultaneously with the label's bawdy Barrelhouse Mamas collection, Down in Black Bottom is a similar collection of early piano blues, with the focus once again being on small combos. Possibly due to the fact that pianists were so often thrust into the role of accompanist, few of these artists made significant names for themselves on record. There is a handful of exceptions, of course. Little Brother Montgomery was an exceptionally gifted pianist who, before moving to Chicago during the 1940s, absorbed the rich and varied piano traditions that surrounded him in the Jackson, MS, area. Tampa Red remained a popular performer long after his move to the Windy City, where the hokum material he favored went over well with Chicago audiences. Names like Sammy Brown, Sylvester Palmer, and Parish Turner, however, remain more mysterious. Most of the musicians on this compilation who managed to achieve notoriety did so through their piano skills rather than their singing. This was good time music for the most part and, as a result, these signers weren't the most exceptional of blues versifiers either. Oftentimes the lyrics rely on the sort of stock phrases that nearly every bluesman acquired as a matter of course. Though the blues on this disc hardly represent the most emotionally compelling of Yazoo's extensive catalog, the set will certainly appeal to enthusiasts of the style, as well as blues fans in search of a less demanding introduction to the early recordings.

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