Various Artists

Texas Blues: Early Blues Masters from the Lone Star State

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Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first bona fide blues performer to be recorded when he sat down in front of a microphone in the spring of 1926, and the very first line of the first song that Jefferson tracked went "well, the blues come to Texas, lopin' like a mule," which is an apt description, since early Texas blues musicians were a varied and stubborn lot, but there was a certain joyful boldness in their playing, and as a group, they rivaled the more celebrated Mississippi Delta blues contingent. This four-disc set from Britain's JSP Records collects what is essentially the complete recorded works of several early Texas (and western Louisiana) blues performers who recorded in the 1920s and 1930s, including Henry Thomas, Pete Harris, Willard "Ramblin'" Thomas, Willie Reed, Oscar "Buddy" Woods, Smith Casey, Coley Jones, George "Little Hat" Jones, Jesse "Babyface" Thomas, and Black Ace (Babe Kyro Lemon Turner aka Lemon Turner). You can hear the strong influence of Blind Lemon Jefferson on several of these musicians, especially Pete Harris and Smith Casey (although Casey's proto-talking blues, "Army Mule in No Man's Land," included here, is as singular as they come), both of whom were recorded by Alan Lomax, but performers like Henry Thomas, who often featured pan pipes and a banjo-derived guitar style known as rapping, are closer to the archaic sound of traveling medicine show minstrels than to the emerging blues style of the time. There is a wealth of tracks here, but a couple of things stick out at first hearing, including the fine slide guitar tone of Ramblin' Thomas; the minor-chord, open-tuning lap slide style of Buddy Woods, who flirts with a kind of early form of Western swing; and the jauntiness of Little Hat Jones, whose songs "Kentucky Blues" and "Bye Bye Baby Blues" are simply a delight. Everything here is available elsewhere from labels like Yazoo and Document, but there is something to be said for having all of these early bluesmen together in one package, and that makes this set well worth seeking out for serious fans of early blues.

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