THE ACOUSTIC YEARS 1959-1960 (4CD)
73 tracks featuring Penitentiary Blues, Bad Luck And Trouble, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, Goin' Back To Florida, Santa Fe Blues, See See Rider, Short Haired Woman, First Meeting, Coffee House Blues, Down There Baby, Take It Easy, Walk On, Automobile Blues, Katie Mae and more
This is the third box set from JSP covering Sam ‘Lightnin' Hopkins extensive recording career. The previous two sets - All The Classic Sides 1946-51 (JSP7705) and Vol 2 1946-56 (JSP7790) - cover his early years when he became one of the most successful blues artists of his time.
By 1959, where this selection picks up the story, Lightnin's day seems to have come and gone. He had not recorded for some three years as changing tastes (fuelled by the rise of rock and roll) and Lightnin's unwillingness or inability to adapt to them, had led to a serious fall from favour.
Salvation came in the form of Sam Charters and the belief that the burgeoning acoustic folk movement might just offer some potential for bluesmen looking for a new audience. So Sam tracks Lightnin' down in Houston, Texas and, after getting him a guitar, new strings and whiskey, they return to Lightnin's home and knock out a few numbers into Charters tape recorder. And the rest, as they say, is history, as these Charters sessions become his ‘rediscovery' album for Folkways and Lightnin' is back in demand as both a recording artist and as a live draw (though his unwillingness to travel, certainly fly, limited his scope somewhat both for recording and playing).
The first 10 tracks on this super new set are these ‘rediscovery' recordings. As we reviewed the re-release of the LP version recently (DOY671LP) we won't dwell on these here other than to say they still remain as nakedly affecting listening to them today as they were the first time we heard them all those years ago.
The rest of the sides contained on these 4CDs pull together for the first time the subsequent recordings made in the immediate aftermath of the ‘rediscovery'. And for this we should be grateful to JSP and compiler Neil Slaven, demonstrating as they do Lightnin's singular commitment to his own personalised style of music. He was seemingly indifferent to trends or ideas of progress and development. Lightnin' just played what he felt when he felt it (and when the money was right). Probably the best sides here are the many where he appears solo; the sides with musical collaborators, even of the calibre of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, held no real appeal to Lightnin' as this necessitated some kind of compromise and planning. Not really playing to the strengths of such an instinctive player as our Sam.
All told, this is an excellent addition to the JSP series of fabulous box sets. While there is not much herein that hasn't been released elsewhere before, it is all now pretty hard to find and there is a major benefit in now having it all available again, in one place and at such a great price!
Review Date: July 2013