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CHIMPIN' THE BLUES, WITH JERRY ZOLTEN & ROBERT CRUMB

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East River (ERSB1006)

What we have here is essentially the finest Desert Island Disc-style radio programme you are likely to hear, a full hour of chatter between two zealous and committed collectors of old 78 RPM blues records, interspersed with some  favourite records picked from their respective collections.

That the ‘guest' role is filled by Robert Crumb, renowned underground cartoonist, illustrator and musician, ensures that the discussion is imbued with enthusiasm, humour and attitude that our ‘host', the broadcaster and writer Jerry Zolten, does a fine job marshalling across a highly entertaining and informative sixty minutes.

This discussion is referred to as ‘chimpin', explained by Crumb as ‘chattering and nit-picking, like chimpanzees' over favourite records; their artwork, rarity, catalogue numbers, and of course contents - who the artist is, what is known about them, what the lyrics are or mean, recording dates, labels and other assorted paraphernalia that adds to the fascination and enjoyment of collecting and listening to old records.

Their banter is more than just enjoyable however, it acts as an enlightening guide to the music they are playing, incorporating eleven rare and little-heard sides from the late 1920s and 1936, a year at which Crumb entertainingly but adamantly states his interest in recorded music does not extend beyond. The nearest offering we have to a well-known song is Cannon's Jug Stompers Walk Right In, well worthy of inclusion here (apart of course from being a corking record) for the accompanying anecdote of Crumb on what happened to Gus Cannon when he belatedly received song-writer royalties for this song from the big-selling version of The Rooftop Singers in the early sixties. And without Crumb pointing it out, who would spot the anomaly of a cello solo in Washboard Cut-Out by the exuberant Bobbie Leecan's Need More Band? 

Elsewhere, as well as obscure, the unearthed treasure presented here is also marvellously varied, from the beautiful Guenene Tini by Cheikha Tetma, recorded in Algeria in 1930, through to excursions into sacred and religious recordings. These include the excellent I'll Just Stand And Wring My Hands And Cry by Reverend J.C. Burnett And Congregation and the delightful Down On Me from Eddie Head And Family. And for more secular blues, the deeply affecting Last Kind Words by Geeshie Wiley is claimed by Crumb to be one of the greatest sides ever recorded. 

Not that it is essential to be briefed about this music to appreciate its various charms. Crumb himself appreciates this and admits to knowing little about Joe Linthcombe when introducing his sublime Humming Blues, a pre-blues ballad with a ukulele and trumpet backing and lyrics not really attuned to the political correctness of today - a sample being ‘I know a good woman is like a second hand car, she keeps you busy but she doesn't go far'. Quite!

And should you somehow already have any of these tracks, I'll wager they don't sound as good as they do here. I don't know what masters the compilers of this programme were working from but the music jumps out of the speakers as clearly and directly as the discussions of Crumb and Zolten.

All told, a fabulous way to spend an hour, all presented in a lovely digi-pack featuring nice notes and an original Robert Crumb illustration on the cover. What's not to like?

Review Date: January 2014

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