Some real folk blues here. Languid and ethereal, James’ high-pitched voice brings a powerfully mournful feel to the sparse arrangements (James accompanies himself on either guitar or piano; only one track features a sideman, Russ Savakus on bass). It’s the perfect record for a Sunday morning spent reflecting on – and probably regretting – those things you did the night before.
T-Bone Walker: “Stormy Monday Blues”
The title track provides yet another data point in support of my theory that any good song can be ruined by backup singers. Walker recorded more than one version of “Stormy Monday” in his career, and the quiet, gin-joint closing-time charm of the original is utterly absent in this uptempo version. The second side has the record’s three best tracks (“Louisiana Bayou Drive,” “Don’t Go Back to New Orleans,” “Got to Cross the Deep Blue Sea”), two of which are less than two minutes long. A fun record if you like this sort of thing, but it won’t change your mind if you don’t.
The Allman Brothers: “At Fillmore East”
I don’t usually dig live albums, at least for rock bands, and that goes double for double-live albums. But then again, this isn’t just a rock record – it’s what you’d get if you put together a band with Elmore James, Jerry Garcia and Art Blakey, more blues and jazz than anything else. Masterful slide guitar playing over long jams that don’t feel like they’re 23 minutes long (true, not all of them are, but it’s my blog and I will exaggerate if I wanna). Great, great record.
Jesse Fuller: “San Francisco Bay Blues”
If you can look past the gimmicks (one-man-bands are always gimmicky), there are some good tunes to be found here. I wouldn’t call it blues, exactly – it’s hard to put a guy who plays the kazoo in the same category as Little Walter or Leadbelly – but I suppose it’s a flexible enough genre to accommodate Mr. Fuller. It’s a pretty upbeat record, so if you prefer your blues with generous dollops of pathos and tragedy, it’s probably not for you.
This was released several years after Hutto returned from his self-imposed exile from the blues world (he had been working as a janitor after quitting music in the 1950s), and it’s a damn good thing he came back. Because it’s an incredible record: Loud, energetic, free-flowing and raw – everything a Chicago-style blues record should be. Highly, highly recommended.