Skip James

King of the Blues, Vol. 8

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With his high, eerie falsetto and haunting guitar tunings, Skip James sounds like no other country blues player. Although his lyrics were generally drawn from the same bag of floating clich├ęs that showed up in countless other blues songs, his atmospheric recordings, done in 1931 for Paramount, gave James' songs the appearance of tremendous poignancy, and his sad, lonely vocal style made them all seem deeply personal. Eighteen of the sides James recorded for Paramount have survived into the modern era, and all are presented here. "Devil Got My Woman," "Cypress Grove Blues," and "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" are all one of a kind classics, as are "I'm So Glad" (later covered by Cream) and "Illinois Blues," both of which contain kinetic acoustic guitar breaks that simply explode out of the verses. James was also a pretty interesting piano player, and his playing on "If You Haven't Any Hay Get On Down the Road" sounds again like no other piano player. These tracks have been issued in their entirety by several labels, including Yazoo, Document, P-Vine and Body & Soul, each of which has transferred them from surviving 78s. In the case of some songs, like "Illinois Blues," for instance, only one copy of the original 78 has ever been located (and that copy was well worn and somewhat damaged), so the sound quality isn't always the best on these CD reissues, but the music is so brilliant and transcendent, it ultimately doesn't matter that much. It also matters little which one of these collections you pick up since all of them come from the same sources, and all have the same amount of snaps, cracks, and hailstone hiss in all the same places. Don't let that stop you, though, because these are beautiful and maverick performances, and absolutely essential for a good blues collection.

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