Roosevelt Sykes

The Way I Feel

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This compilation includes nearly two dozen seminal sides featuring a pair of the 20th century's preeminent blues piano stylists, Roosevelt Sykes and Lee Green. The material contains some of the earliest known tracks to have been cut by either artist, and has been transcribed from vintage 78s. As per usual, however, the audio historians and sonic craftsmen at Yazoo have successfully accomplished restoring these recordings. By 1929, the 23-year-old Sykes had established himself in St. Louis and was "discovered" by a local record shop owner who also managed to wrangle him some studio time. The Way I Feel commences with two 1929 sessions. The earliest sides from June also included Henry Townsend (guitar) -- who performs under the pseudonym of Clifford Gibson. According to Bob Hall's fascinating liner notes essay, the guitarist's sound and style of playing are easily identifiable. However, both the paper trail as well as Sykes' own recollection is that an otherwise unknown named Oscar Carter provided the accompaniment. The common theory is that Carter was yet another nom de plume used by Townsend, as he was already signed under his other two aliases. "Roosevelt's Blues" immediately establishes the artist in terms of his laid-back performance persona and romping piano delivery. Sykes' vocals are equally striking, and counterbalance his playing with a distinct reedy intonation. However, it is his rollicking keyboard that garners special attention. This compendium's title track is a perfect example of the pianist's ability to effortlessly weave melodically with Carter's unique picking technique. "44 Blues" is among Sykes' best-known works, demonstrating a double-barrel intricacy that would become his trademark. His sprightly runs up and down the 88s are countered by rock-solid timing.

The November 1929 platters are comprised of collaborations between Sykes and Harry Johnson (guitar), about whom little to nothing is known other than that he also contributed to another session the same day he worked with Sykes. The Lee Green partnership began in the mid-'20s, and the seven tracks featured here are dated circa 1930. The spoken introduction to "Number 44 Blues" intimates the casual and chummy friendship between the two -- which definitely translates to their musical camaraderie as well. The beautiful "Maltese Cat" and the understatedly raucous "Memphis Fives" reveal the depth of field and diversity of the two. The final seven cuts were documented by Sykes under the name "Willie Kelly" sometime in late 1930 and/or early 1931. Directly contrasting the easygoing and comparatively pastoral nature of his earlier material are sides such as "You So Dumb," which is notable for the lightning speed and deftness of the self-accompaniment. Likewise, the song is marked by a barrelhouse aggression and propulsive beat. These are clearly evident on "Kelly's 44 Blues," which is a spinoff of his previous hit, and "Give Me Your Change," which also boasts a rompin' rhythm.

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