Cootie Stark

Sugar Man

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A second generation Piedmont bluesman who learned his trade busking on South Carolina street corners in the 1930s, Cootie Stark didn't record until he was in his seventies, but age hasn't prevented him from having an obvious good time on Sugar Man, his debut release. Stark is more percussive and abrasive a guitar player than the traditional southeast blues model, and it serves him well on the best tracks here, most of which are done with a small band, including the ragtag "Metal Bottoms" which opens the album. Stark's vocals are warm and wry, and even when he sings the blues it is with a definite joyful undercurrent. The small band pieces like "Jigroo," "Padlock Blues," "Cut Down That Old Pine Tree," and "Sandy Land" (you can't make a living on sandy land, Stark assures us) all have a sort of street corner jug band appeal, and with Stark's frequent shouted asides, demonstrate an easy intimacy. The gospel-inflected closing track, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?," concludes with a long period of silence, followed by a hidden track of Stark talking about his life and times. Sugar Man isn't a period-piece history lesson (well, in a way it is, since Stark has been playing this way pretty much since the Great Depression) but an energetic example of living, breathing, and still vital Piedmont blues.

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