Various Artists

Mississippi Blues: Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1

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Countless musicians recorded during the apex of the early country blues boom in the 1920s and 1930s, and for every Robert Johnson or Skip James there are a dozen more artists whose 78s never made much of a mark, whose studio time may have been limited to one visit, one session. History has sorted out the giants and geniuses from the ordinary players and also-rans, but that process has been built in part by sheer happenstance, as scholars and collectors often went door to door in the South asking to look at old 78s stored in attics, basements, and garages, and what lost and hidden gems are stuck in a closet behind a stack of old magazines is anybody's guess. Which is why Document Records is such a godsend. With a stated goal of locating and releasing in a digital format every 78 it can get its hands on, Document has been tireless in its mission to bring some of these old, lost voices back to life. Mississippi Blues (this is volume one of two, but there will undoubtedly be more volumes) collects the complete known recorded works of Uncle Bud Walker, "Big Road" Webster Taylor, Mattie Delaney, Louise Johnson, Mississippi Bracy (Caldwell Bracy), Geeshie Wiley (spelled Geechie here), Elvie Thomas, the Mississippi Moaner (Isiah Nettles), and Mose Andrews. Most of these artists only put out a single 78 before vanishing into the thin ether of blues history. With the exception of Wiley's stunning and atmospheric "Last Kind Word Blues," nothing here has much of a chance to deeply change your world, but there are some pleasant little gems and discoveries to be found, including Taylor's melismatic moans (which approximate yodels) on his only two known tracks, "World in a Jug" and "Sunny Southern Blues." Delaney turns in a spunky version of Charley Patton's "High Water Everywhere" called "Tallahatchie River Blues," while Bracy's "You Scolded Me and Drove Me from Your Door" and Nettles' "It's Cold in China Blues" are also a cut above the normal blues fare for the era. The real treasure here, though, is Wiley's "Last Kind Word Blues," one of six sides she and Thomas recorded for Paramount Records in 1930 and 1931. It is one of the most harrowing and transcendent performances in country blues history, and that it has survived the dismissive nature of time and distance into the 21st century is a tip of the hat to the gambler's prayer of good luck and good fortune.

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