CLASSIC HARMONICA BLUES
Smithsonian Folkways (SFWCD40204)
Doctor Ross, Sonny Terry, Eddie Burns, Jazz Gillum, Charlie Sayles, Roscoe Holcomb, Neal Pattman, Phil Wiggins, Will Shade and more...
Another in the series of ‘Classic' releases designed to draw attention to the wealth of historic and high quality music the label has in their extensive vaults.
This time around the attention is on the fabulous archive of blues harmonica recordings they have available, taking in tracks from historic Folkways albums, field recordings from compilations put together by legendary folklorists such as Harry Smith and Art Rosenbaum and a number of live festival tape recordings (presumably previously unreleased).
Sonny Terry's contribution is naturally not limited to being the poster boy on the cover of the CD and he features on four excellent tracks, mostly in the company of Brownie McGhee from the 1950s. The three 1987 live recordings of Dr Ross are also uniformly good and the Sam Charters recording of Take Your Fingers Off It by Will Shade, Gus Cannon and Charlie Burse from 1955 (some 20 years after Shade and Burse recorded this in the Memphis Jug Band) is simply sensational.
In fact, every one of these tracks is an excellent example of blues harmonica in a range of field recording, recording studio and live concert contexts. And the accompanying 36 page booklet, providing a track by track summary of each artist and recording detail, does not hurt any either.
The label's archive is so vast and of such consistently high quality that you or I could probably pluck tracks from the archive at random and still come up trumps. There is nothing random about this presentation however and anyone with the slightest interest in blues harmonica will undoubtedly enjoy it.
Review Date: July 2013