Various Artists

Violin, Sing the Blues for Me: African-American Fiddlers 1926-1949

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As Marshall Wyatt's thorough liner notes explain in the accompanying 32-page booklet, the violin had a more prominent role in early blues than has often been supposed. Violins were far more apt to be played than guitars in the 19th century, and even when the blues began to be recorded in the 1920s, violins were still often used, although they weren't as apt to be featured on disc as the guitar and other instruments were. This 24-track compilation (with only one cut dating from after 1935) includes some fairly recognizable blues names like Peg Leg Howell, Howard Armstrong, Cow Cow Davenport, the Mississippi Sheiks, the Memphis Jug Band, Charley Patton (accompanying Henry Sims), and Big Joe Williams (a 1935 version of his signature tune "Baby Please Don't Go"), although many of the performers are far more obscure. The material tends toward the more good-timey and folky side of the rural blues tradition; the violins can get into a hoedown kick, as on Peg Leg Howell's "Beaver Slide Rag," or get into a rapid ragtime mode, as on Louie Bluie & Ted Bogan's "Ted's Stomp." Because of the chronological span and wide roster of artists represented, it's a good overview of violin-informed early blues, a subgenre that hasn't gotten a whole of attention. And check out Frank Stokes' "Right Now Blues" to get your head spun around when you hear a lyric that was repeated in Chuck Berry's classic "Reelin' and Rockin'."

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