The Rough Guide To The Best Country Blues You’ve Never Heard Vol. 2 / a RootsWorld assessment

Thanks to the scholarship and massive reissue campaigns of labels such as Yazoo. Mamlish, Biograph, Wolf, Document, and Herwin, not to mention labels such as Italy’s Monk or Portland, Oregon’s Mississippi, who recognized there was a younger generation of vinyl hipsters who hadn’t already discovered the joys of the 78 RPM era, the hydra-headed beast known as “the blues” has been well-catalogued, reissued, re-discovered, re-contextualized, and re-curated. The individuality inherent in its earliest recorded performers, geniuses such as Charley Patton and Geechie Wiley among them, has long since morphed into electric band performance in Northern cities as a result of the mid-20th century Great Migration, only to devolve into stylistically-bereft, watered-down guitar wankery thanks to the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton. It morphed ever so certainly into what we now know as Metal over 50 years ago, and more recently its raw form has been re-purposed for more interesting expressions by the likes of Marissa Anderson or Ignatz.

So what on earth is the Rough Guide doing spitting these recordings out once again in the early decades of the 21st century, nearly 100 years after many of the tracks here were recorded? Surely, hardcore blues nerds already have these songs, either thanks to reissues on the above-mentioned labels, or perhaps hidden in the worn grooves of original shellac 78s coveted like treasure. One can only suspect that the Rough Guide has its own crowd, individuals who respect and appreciate the label and travel guide’s ability to curate music the same way it might assist in travel routes through Laos or Indonesia. And for interested folks, this collection does not disappoint. It also does a fine job of allowing us to recognize that the term “blues” is a catch-all for music with deep roots into the changes occurring in music and society going at least into the last decades of the 19th century.

Will Day
“Sunrise Blues” (excerpt)

Louisiana-born “Bogus” Ben Covington is a case in point. A banjo-mandolin player and harpist, he was a one man band who reveled in rags, hokum, and swing, and his “It’s a Fight Like That,” has an instantly recognizable melody, even if his performance may be more obscure. Tommie Bradley’s take on “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” follows the same strict progression as a dozen other versions of the tune, showing the song’s formalism goes back to at least 1931. Lil McClintock’s “Don’t Think I’m Santa Clause” is pure minstrelsy, certainly pre-blues, and as such it falls into some embarrassing racist stereotypes. Will Day’s “Sunrise Blues” features a haunting, echoing clarinet that shadows his voice in a way rarely heard on that instrument before or since. Instead of suggesting hints of jazz, its presence only serves to make the performance more harrowing. Big Boy Cleveland, whose few sides have been compiled many times, demonstrates a more hardcore blues style. His “Goin’ to Leave You Blues” is all driving slide guitar.

Listen Skoodle Dum Do
“Tampa Blues” (excerpt)

There’s no question about the dusty corners combed for this compilation; Virgil Childers, Lewis Black, Otis Harris, and Skoodle Dum Do are known by only the most hardcore aficionados for American music from this era. In 26 tracks and 77 minutes, this collection gives a respectable balance of styles and geography too, once again showing how rich in music the US was in the early decades of the 20th century. We’re fortunate recording technology was around to capture it.


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