Various Artists

Working Man Blues [WG]

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Working Man Blues, a five-CD, 100-track anthology released in 2008 by WG Productions, is an excellent sampler of urban and regional blues recordings made during the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. A photograph of a foundry worker displayed prominently on its cover conveys the misleading impression that all or most of the songs are topically tied directly to labor issues and working class concerns. Of course, in the larger sense, everything here does embody or speak to some aspect of life among members of the nation's work force, in particular the challenges of survival and interpersonal relationships along with just about every emotion imaginable, including loneliness, dejection, jealousy, and depression. The few entries that closely fit the implied theme of the collection include "Spike Driver Blues" sung by Mississippi John Hurt; Leadbelly's hearty "Pick a Bale of Cotton"; DeFord Bailey's take on the traditional "John Henry"; "The Chain Gang Blues" by Champion Jack Dupree, and Brownie McGhee's "Coal Miner Blues," "Picking My Tomatoes," and "Working Man Blues." The blues is always about life, and true to form, practically anything referred to in here might be a metaphor for something else. Some songs deal exclusively with what working people do in order to cut loose and enjoy themselves after hours, the rowdiest and most pungent example being Bessie Smith's "Soft Pedal Blues," in which she loudly describes a buffet flat where bootleg liquor is served and the live entertainment includes naked performers engaging in unusual sex practices. If that seems like a far cry from Big Joe Williams' "Providence Help the Poor People," just chalk it up to the human condition.

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