Memphis Slim

Worried Life Blues

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Drawing his recording moniker of Memphis Slim from his lanky 6'5" frame, blues pianist Peter Chatman was instrumental in bringing a jazzy, urban sensibility to the blues in the mid-'40s. This generous four-disc, 77-track collection of Slim's 78s, recorded between 1940 and the early '50s on a variety of small labels, including Bluebird and Hy-Tone, the masters of which were purchased by King Records and released as singles in 1948 and 1949 (and they were then moved over to Miracle Records, which re-released them as 78 singles all over again in 1951 on Federal Records, a King subsidiary -- it gets a bit confusing). Slim's jazz-inflected uptown sound (usually driven by merged alto and tenor saxes) is in full force on these tracks, giving the whole set, big as it is, a remarkable unity of tone. Highlights include some lightning-fueled jazz blues romps like "Slim's Boogie," his classic singles "Lend Me Your Love" and "Rockin' the House," the prescient, downtempo blues gem "Mother Earth," the joyful "Old Taylor," and "Blues at Midnight," which features the great Jazz Gillum on harmonica -- all of these make this a great introduction to this first -- and definitely great -- phase of Slim's long career (although it curiously lacks his signature song, "Nobody Loves Me," which became better known as "Everyday I Have the Blues" in later versions by B.B. King, Joe Williams, and Lowell Fulson). Always an engaging pianist and singer, Slim, like many of the black blues and jazz musicians of his generation, found both an audience and a home in Europe for the last 20-plus years of his life, basing himself in Paris beginning in 1962 and remaining there until his death in 1988. In that span he recorded an astounding 50 or so albums, not including the various recordings of his live performances that still continue to surface. While it could be argued that his peak years were in the '40s and '50s, the period covered by this box, the recordings he made in the last third of his life were incredibly intimate and frank, and he didn't shy away from addressing racial and social injustice in the later songs, even while he kept his blues performances smooth and accessible. What's collected here is certainly essential and critical to understanding Slim, but listeners shouldn't hesitate to check out the later recordings as well.

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