Various Artists

St. Louis Barrelhouse Piano (1929-1934)

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One of Document's many compilations devoted to historic regional blues recordings, St. Louis Barrelhouse Piano (1929-1934) is almost equally divided between the works of Wesley Wallace, who operated mainly as an accompanist for blues singers, and Henry Brown, who distinguished himself as a professor of the boogie-woogie. Wallace was also capable of pitching woogie, as evidenced by the locomotive-inspired "No. 29," its steady rolling flipside "Fanny Lee Blues," and the humorous "Do It Sloppy," which comes across as the best little record he ever made. The rest of Wallace's sides are gritty old blues tunes with vocals by Bessie Mae Smith, Robert Peeples (who may have been Wallace himself), and Sylvester Palmer. Don't let a little bit of 78 rpm surface noise deter you from investigating these fine old recordings. When this disc first appeared in the '90s, Document stoically provided listeners with the authentic, old-time phonographic playback experience. Brown's portion of the album opens with "Stomp ‘Em Down to the Bricks," an easy, loping duet with guitarist Lawrence Casey. For the flipside, the two were joined by trombonist Ike Rodgers, a fascinating character who made most of his recordings in the company of Henry Brown. "Malt Can Blues," released under the name of Ike Rodgers & His Biddle Street Boys, is a somber prohibition-era protest song during which the chronically thirsty Casey vows to leave the country rather than continue to exist without fermented spirits. The Rodgers and Brown duets, particularly "Twenty First St. Stomp" and "It Hurts So Good," are monumental masterpieces of straightforward blues, played by an instrumental combination that is unusual for the genre. The women who occasionally comment on the proceedings have been identified as Alice Moore and Mary Johnson. "Eastern Chimes Blues" and "Deep Morgan Blues" are wonderful, easy paced barrelhouse piano solos of great dignity and depth. "Deep Morgan" refers to a thoroughfare now known as Delmar Avenue. Rodgers returns in the company of an expressive yet unidentified violinist to back vocalist Dolly Martin, also known as Tecumseh "Tee" MacDonald, whose most convincing line is "all men are devils." This highly recommended anthology of St. Louis-based blues and barrelhouse entertainment closes with the swinging "Throw Me in the Alley," performed by Peetie Wheatstraw & His Blue Blowers. This jazzy, swinging number showcases Rodgers, Brown, the unnamed fiddler, and an anonymous clarinetist at their most exuberant.

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