Leroy Carr

The Essential

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Nashville native and archetypal singing blues pianist Leroy Carr is known to have cut some 136 sides during a brief recording career that began in 1928 and ended with his premature death in 1935. Every last one of these relics were chronologically compiled and released on compact disc during the 1990s by Document Records Ltd. Since then, Carr's work has reappeared in a number of excellent editions. Released by Classic Blues as a 36-track double-disc in 2003, The Essential Leroy Carr shares the best characteristics -- selection, quantity, and sound quality -- of The Essential Blind Blake and about a dozen other entries in the Classic Blues series. The advantage of a well-assembled non-chronological compilation is that textures, topics, and tempos may be varied to ensure a good listening experience. Unlike many of his contemporaries and some of his imitators, Carr did not grind out a long series of almost identical records that sound like consecutive choruses in an epic lament. He was a master of wistful rumination, a form best represented here by the "Midnight Hour Blues," "Blues Before Sunrise," and his first big hit, the "How Long, How Long Blues." The sullen, brusquely paced "Tired of Your Low Down Ways" communicates bitter interpersonal frustration and the "Straight Alky Blues" boldly addresses the addiction which, in tandem with tuberculosis, would take him out at the age of 30. Upbeat, often boogie-driven numbers which make this collection sparkle include "Memphis Town," "Bo Bo Stomp," "Sloppy Drunk Blues," "Just a Rag," "Papa Wants a Cookie," and a pair of singalong variations on a similar theme bearing the titles "Gettin' All Wet" and "Papa's on the Housetop (and Won't Come Down")." While guitarist Scrapper Blackwell would have been pleased to know that three of his best solo recordings made it onto this collection ("Kokomo Blues," "D Blues," and "A Blues"), their inclusion decreases the number of actual Carr performances on The Essential Leroy Carr and should probably be rationalized as a salute to Blackwell's vital contribution to Carr's artistic and popular success. "Six Cold Feet in the Ground" is an eerie last testament resulting from his one-day tenure as a Bluebird recording artist, only two months before his passing. Pianist Dot Rice is heard on the final track, "My Old Pal Blues," which is Scrapper Blackwell's elegy for his recently deceased friend.

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