Skip James

Studio Sessions: Rare and Unreleased

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All of these 19 songs, not released until 2003, come from a 1967 recording session. That might make it the last studio work Skip James did before his death in 1969, although the liner notes, frustratingly, offer virtually no specific details about the session and why it wasn't released for 35 years. This wouldn't rate among James' better recordings, as his voice, material, and instrumental skills weren't as sharp here as they were on some of his other releases (from both the 1930s and 1960s). It's OK, however, if not that exciting. James stuck to traditional songs for this set, and some listeners might be surprised or disappointed to find that much of the material is spiritual/gospel in nature. Too, he played guitar only about half the time, moving to piano for the remainder of the tracks. His trademark high, haunting voice was still intact; in fact, on songs like "Oh, Mary Don't You Weep" and "One Dime Was All I Had" it's so high as to almost sound like it's a cloud of smoke dissipating into space. That high voice is the factor that elevates this above routine traditional blues, since the songs aren't James' best and aren't all that diverse. An unidentified woman sings faint duet vocals with James on "Walking the Sea," her name being another detail that escapes the annotation on this disc.

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