Memphis Slim

The Folkways Years: 1959-1973

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These 21 tracks, selected from the recordings Memphis Slim did for Folkways, tend to be in solo piano or sparsely accompanied arrangements, as one would figure since Folkways was a traditionally oriented label. Still, it doesn't sound like a forced or awkward attempt to steer the pianist toward an outdated approach. It's just on the quiet and restrained side, and not different from numerous recordings Memphis Slim did for more commercially minded labels throughout his career. Although half of the material is just Slim alone at the piano (sometimes singing, sometimes not), it does actually show him in a variety of contexts. Willie Dixon accompanies him on bass on a few numbers; Jazz Gillum does the vocal and harmonica for "Key to the Highway" (which is actually a track on which Memphis Slim was the sideman, not the featured artist); Matt Murphy plays electric guitar on a few songs; Pete Seeger joins Memphis Slim and Dixon on "Midnight Special"; and there are actually drums by Jump Jackson on a couple of tunes. It's assured piano blues whatever the situation, not among his very best recordings, but certainly respectable. Unfortunately, the liner notes, quite detailed in most respects, do not give the dates of recordings for the individual tracks; from the sound of things, most of these date from 1959 and the early 1960s, although the title indicates a timespan of 1959-1973. Three of the cuts were previously unreleased, including "Every Day I Have the Blues," the atypical organ instrumental "The Gimmick," and the piano instrumental "The Dirty Dozens."

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