Georgia Tom

The Essential

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Thomas Andrew Dorsey (Georgia Tom) was a man of musical polarities. In the 1930s he essentially invented modern gospel by infusing his spiritual compositions with a secular blues perspective, creating church music that was full of praise, hope, and redemption, but was still deeply personal, the voice of one man in crisis and stuck in a hard, hard world, which, of course, was the stock-in-trade of the blues. But through his work as a session pianist in the 1920s, and on his own solo sides during that period, Dorsey had a hand in writing songs about revenge, murder, and all manner of drunken and bawdy mayhem, all decidedly not meant to be ironic tales of moral redemption. Dorsey walked that line between Heaven and Hell, working both sides of the street, the sacred and the profane, and because he did, he was able to inject his later gospel compositions with a refreshing honesty. This two-disc set collects his 1920s work, and only one track here, the wonderfully direct "How About You," could qualify as gospel. Generally working with other artists like Bertha "Chippie" Hill (on the moving and stately "Some Cold Rainy Day"), Tampa Red, Stovepipe Johnson ("Devilish Blues"), Bumble Bee Slim, and Bill Johnson's Louisiana Jug Band, Dorsey demonstrates an immense knowledge of the blues form. His solo pieces ("Blue Moanin' Blues," "Mississippi Bottom Blues") are perfectly balanced examples of the genre, and if the harder revenge songs ("Grievin' Me Blues," "Knife Man Blues") seem startling given his future direction, other tracks here branch out to cover street-level economics ("We Don't Sell It Here No More") and just plain old honky tonk fun ("Get the 'L' on Down the Road"). This set, though, only tells one side of the story, and while there are compilations available that present his gospel material, it would be nice to have an anthology that put them both together, because, at the root, both the blues and gospel share the same aim, to provide deliverance from the hard task of dealing day to day in a world that seems doggedly determined to be cold and unforgiving.

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