Various Artists

Texas Blues

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One of the better collections of material recorded prior to the second World War in Texas, the Catfish double-CD Texas Blues challenges the listener to examine many facets of the giant state's sprawling music scene. The presentation of a selection such as this goes a long way to counteract previous divisions that have been made between the country blues of famous players such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander and the multi-faceted worlds of string bands and jug bands, often the outcome of a kind of racist reordering of musical directions. Cities such as Dallas were full of many types of performers in the '20s and '30s, the influence of both traditional blues and the strains of urban Tin Pan Alley and jazz styles striking far and wide like heat lightning on a summer evening. It is the diversity of the program that inevitably provides its greatest value. Most often choosing a pair of tracks by each artist to provide a generous taste, the producers present the listener with the expected superb blues guitar and barrelhouse piano soloists as well as strikingly unique ensembles such as the Dallas Jamboree Jug Band, led by singer and guitarist Carl Davis, and the equally effective Frenchies' String Band. There is plenty to chew on during tracks by Whistlin' Alex Moore or Billiken Johnson, eccentric performers who utilize vocal effects in order to imitate the sounds of trains and boats. And speaking of chewing, the always entertaining Ramblin' Thomas actually discusses the very subject on his bizarre "Back Gnawing Blues." This set challenges the listener to take on the early Texas scene in all its grandeur, complete with the sort of odd tracks that don't fit into a "neatsy-pinsy" examination of musical history. While driving across Texas can most certainly be boring, this type of journey never is.

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