In the early '80s, the German label L+R released a series of recordings titled "Living Country Blues USA." A total of 14 albums were issued, offering a panoramic view of Southern musical styles and an opportunity to hear nearly three dozen artists perform in uncluttered settings. Sixty of these field recordings, including several made in the Washington area, are now available on a new three-CD compilation, "Living Country Blues: An Anthology" (Evidence).
The set's initial focus is on musicians who lived in Mississippi at the time, the best known of them being Sam Chatmon, a founding member of the Mississippi Sheiks who died a few years after these recordings were made. His performances of "Sittin' on Top of the World" and "Stop and Listen Blues" are as soulful as they are unvarnished. Other musicians who eventually gained recognition outside Mississippi, including Son Thomas and Lonnie Pitchford, are also heard to advantage on this set, performing tunes composed by Arthur Crudup, Elmore James and others. Even so, the anthology's first disc embraces not just traditional blues but also work songs, fife-and-drum tunes, guitar boogies and gospel standards. Of particular note is the northeastern Mississippi "hill country" music of Othar Turner and Napoleon Strickland, which was largely undiscovered by outsiders until recently.
The second disc, titled "Lonesome Road Blues (East Coast)," should delight fans of finger-style guitar, since it features tracks by Bowling Green John Cephas, Frank Hovington and Archie Edwards--music full of alternating bass lines, bright melodies and expressive treble runs. Some of the most stirring selections, though, come from Flora Molton, the Washington-based gospel singer and slide guitarist who died in 1990.
The final disc in the collection, "You Got to Move (Tennessee, Arkansas & More)," presents a broader range of music. Some of it is comforting (Hammie Nixon's rendition of the gospel tune "Soon One Mornin' "), and some of it is unnerving (Joe Savage's searing recollection of the prison time he served at Parchman Farm). And as on the other discs in this collection, there are several performers whose music never received the exposure it deserved.
To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8151.
'Chicago/The Blues/Today' Originally released in 1966 on three LPs, "Chicago/The Blues/Today" (Vanguard) has also been reissued as a three-CD set, under the original name and featuring pivotal tracks by such artists as Junior Wells, Otis Rush and Johnny Shines. New liner notes detail the collection's genesis and its lasting impact on a legion of blues-rockers from both sides of the Atlantic. The music's far-reaching influence is further underscored by recent endorsements from Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt, plus a vintage photograph of Jimi Hendrix holding one of the original LPs.
It's not easy choosing highlights from a collection as consistently compelling as this, but certainly Rush's performances have to be near the top of the list. On "It's a Mean Old World," "I Can't Quit You Baby" and "It's My Own Fault," Rush's aching voice and biting guitar deliver a one-two punch that few blues musicians of any generation have been able to match.
Similarly, the five tracks by the James Cotton Band are extremely impressive, overflowing with soul and energy, and for sheer rhythmic momentum nothing quite rivals hearing pianist Otis Spann's romp across the keyboard. Not to be overlooked, too, are inspired performances by harmonica legend Junior Wells, mandolinist Johnny Young and guitarists Johnny Shines, J.B. Hutto and Homesick James.
To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8152.
CAPTION: Blues musician Archie Edwards plays finger-style guitar on "Living Country Blues."