Peg Leg Howell

Peg Leg Howell & Eddie Anthony, Vol. 1

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Atlanta street singer Peg Leg Howell wasn't really much of a guitarist, but his songs, many of which were made up of fragments of street vendor calls and other pre-blues material, have a sort of greasy and rough-hewed grace to them, and when combined with Eddie Anthony's careening fiddle runs, achieved a distinct sound (part string band, part hokum jug band) all too rare in early blues. His "Skin Game Blues" is a poignant and perfectly nuanced classic in the genre, while "Coal Man Blues" is an early statement and indictment of class distinction in the American South. This collection from Document Records gathers both of these songs, recorded in 1926, along with other worthy pieces, including "Tishamingo Blues" (which lends its title to an Elmore Leonard novel, Tishomingo Blues) and the revelatory "New Prison Blues." Filling things out here are pleasant pieces like the guitar-and-fiddle stomp "Hobo Blues," which shows how much Anthony brings to the table, and "Rock and Gravel Blues," which is made up of the usual floating verses of the day, but still manages a forward narrative push. Document has also issued a second volume of Howell's 78s, but this first installment is a little stronger in the song category. Howell and his friends have a particularly loose and interesting street sound, and curious listeners might do well to pick up both discs. The overall recorded sound is pretty decent, given the age and archival nature of the source 78s.

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