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THE ROUGH GUIDE TO GOSPEL BLUES

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World Music Network (RGNET1349CD)

Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Blind Roosevelt Graves, Blind Joe Taggart, Tallahassee Tight, Julius Daniels, Blind Gussie Nesbitt, Sam Collins, Henry Davis, Bo Weavil Jackson, Skip James, Charley Patton, Red. Edward W. Clayborn and more…

The relationship between religious church music and secular blues recordings of the 1920s and 1930s has long been problematic for music historians and ethno-musicologist researchers when grappling with workable definitions and categorisations  that they do like to deal in.

I doubt such definitions and categorisations unduly bothered that many musicians and audiences of the time. While some musicians featured here saw their music as an extension of their evangelical mission and adamantly restricted themselves (at recording sessions, at least)  to religious material, most would happily play and record both blues and religious songs, depending upon their own preferences, requests from record labels or type of venue or audience paying to hear them.

Any such debate as to where ‘blues’ and ‘religious’ music should be conjoined or distinguished between needn’t unnecessarily concern or detain us here. Rather we can simply marvel at, and enjoy, the 25 exceptionally spirited and uplifting religious songs contained herein, as recorded in the 1920s and 1930s and featuring both relatively well-known and little heard of musicians,

While the truly committed are likely to already have a good number of these recordings and similar CDs, the selections here are rarely the obvious ones. This should appeal to both committed collector’s and to those just looking for a well-compiled and presented introduction to the religious side of many of their favourite early bluesmen.

Among the best known artists and songs included here, you can surely never tire of hearing Blind Willie Johnson’s spine-tingling vocals and slide guitar on I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole, Skip James’ sedate and sombre Be Ready When He Comes, or Charley Patton’s powerful Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker.

Many will also be familiar with Rev Edward W. Clayburn’s sublime Your Enemy Cannot Harm You and Reverend Gary Davis’ upbeat I Am The Light but the more you listen the more you discover (or re-discover) otherwise lost gems.

Of these, I have been particularly enjoying Memphis Minnie’s untypical (for her, at least) Let Me Ride, where she embraces a humourous mock-preacher delivery similar to the approach that CW Stoneking so shines on these days. And no bluesman ever excelled so well on the call and response song as Blind Willie McTell, and here he and Kate McTell provide us with the spiritual enlivener that is I Got Religion, I’m So Glad.

Over recent years the Rough Guide To... series has proved to be an invaluable source of well-compiled overviews to all types of music and individual artists and this CD is no exception. Well worth getting at any price, but at this price, it is essential!

Review Date: June 2016

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