VAUDEVILLE BLUES (4CD)
Margaret Carter, Mamie Smith, Jed Davenport, Clara Smith, Blind Willie McTell, Edna Hicks, Ma Rainey, Charley Patton, Ida May Mack, Bessie Tucker, Barbecue Bob, Papa Charlie Jackson, Martha Copeland, Buddy Boy Hawkins, Flo Bert, Memphis Jug Band, Viola McCoy, Fanny May Goosby, Charley Lincoln, Texas Alexander, Butterbeans & Susie and more.
The latest JSP box set is fast becoming one of my very favourites in the series, despite the fact that I have yet to fully get my head around the concept.
Essentially, compiler and annotator, Max Haymes, has explored the links between the recorded blues of the 1920s and 1930s and its vaudeville roots that came, and largely disappeared, prior to the emergence of a mass recording industry. As a result, Max presents, across four sensational CDs, a load of rare country blues sides and sets them against even rarer vaudeville recordings, comparing and contrasting the themes, motifs and phrases that were adopted and adapted by each.
If this sounds a little dry and academic, well it ain't. The music is universally vibrant, joyous, humourous and life-affirming and is a truly splendid set whether you try to join the dots or not. I was hooked from the early tracks by the rather marvellous singer Margaret Carter (get a load of I Want Plenty Grease In My Frying Pan and Come Get Me Papa, Before I Faint) and the equally splendid Margaret Johnson (on Who'll Chop Your Suey) and I am still working my way through the rest.
Obviously many of the country blues artists included are well known already - featuring here great sides by Blind Willie McTell, Charlie Patton, Tampa Red, Buddy Boy Hawkins, Willie Brown, Kokomo Arnold, Leadbelly, Furry Lewis and the rest - but there are still many that I have not heard before (or do not have elsewhere on CD). However it is the revelatory vaudeville singers among the 103 tracks, as Max presents them, that are taking up most of my attention right now.
This is a must-have set if you have any interest in the emergence of pre-war blues. Enjoy the music for its own sake first and, if you then want to pursue your understanding further, there is an expanded version of the sets liner notes available at www.earlyblues.com (follow links marked ‘history of the blues' and ‘I need-a plenty grease in my frying pan' and you should find them).
Review Date: August 2012