Big Bill Broonzy

Warm, Witty & Wise

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The title is apt. Warmth, wit, and wisdom spring from these 16 blues recordings from 1930-1941, as does a clever, ribald sense of humor, jocularity, and juicy, expressive guitar playing. At least Broonzy had the satisfaction before his passing of knowing the abundant inspiration he provided to the later famed generation of '50s Chicago blues legends. You can hear plenty of Broonzy's earnest, confident-just-shy-of-cocky, appealing attitude about sex, booze, bars, and Depression era hard times in the recordings of other later Chess masters such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley, and Howling Wolf. This tall Southern gent vet left the South of his birth for the more fertile black playing grounds of Chi-town in the jazz age 1920s, and lit up the South Side clubs once he added a band. In fact, to get to the good stuff, save the 1930-1932 New York recordings that open this disc for last. These are excellent, thoroughly picked, folk-blues recordings, just his smooth voice and working fingers, nearly as fast and as flavorful as '20s and '30s masters Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Leadbelly. But move instead to the drums/bass/piano/guitar work on the 1938-1939 Chicago recordings, where the sizzle and wordplay just grow. Listeners would chuckle over the double entendres in songs like "Too Many Drivers" or the drunken hilarity of "When I Been Drinking" if they weren't so entranced by the pumping piano, some of the earliest electric guitar blues solos, and Broonzy's rich, surprisingly sunny singing. The string bass, shuffling drums, and occasional sax, clarinet, or trumpet are similarly first-rate, but it's the unfettered piano of Joshua Altheimer that steals the show. Blues in this case makes for mischievous grins, not frowns and bleeding hearts, and for that Broonzy's work will always inspire successive generations of blues lovers.

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