Memphis Rent Party – The Blues, Rock And Soul
Fat Possum Records – 2018
12 tracks; 49 minutes
This CD is a companion set to a new book of the same title by Memphis-based writer/filmmaker Robert Gordon (not to be confused with the rockabilly artist or the author of Deep Blues). The music contained in this disc is a very diverse collection, the only common thread being Memphis where all these recordings were made. Across the collection there are examples of Hill Country blues, straight country, soul, jazz and rock. Most of the recordings are live and, in several cases, of relatively poor quality, so it will depend on how keen the listener is to hear the artist concerned that will determine how much he/she values the recording.
The CD opens with Jerry McGill’s interpretation of Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting For A Train”, a fine piece of Americana with piano, pedal steel and strings (clearly one of the few studio recordings here). Luther Dickinson’s collaboration with Sharde Thomas on “Chevrolet” is an early highlight, the sparse arrangement featuring Luther’s slide over drums and fife, Luther and Sharde exchanging vocal verses. Junior Kimbrough was recorded singing and playing “All Night Long” in 1986 at an actual house party but the quality of the recording is rough, especially the vocals. A 1960’s recording of Furry Lewis playing “Why Don’t You Come Home Blues” fares better with clear vocals and guitar but it is uncertain whether this is an unreleased version of a song that Furry originally recorded in the 20’s. We then move to the crossroads where jazz and blues meet with Calvin Newborn who, with his brother Phineas, made a long career combining the two; the seven minute excursion through “Frame For The Blues” featuring relaxed guitar and flute shows how a late night club date might have felt (you can hear some audience noise in the background).
The blues are left behind on a very loose version of “Johnny Too Bad” by Alex Chilton (Big Star) who apparently played the tune when the band did not know it so they join in as best they can! Jerry Lee Lewis barrels through “Harbour Lights” in his typical piano style before another rough and ready live recording finds soul band The Fieldstones playing a slow grind version of “Little Bluebird” but the background ‘chatter’ almost overpowers the distant-sounding band. The recording of The Panther Burns’ “Drop Your Mask” was apparently recorded at their second ever gig and sounds like it in a sort of distorted tango/punk mash-up.
“Same Thing On My Mind” is clearly related to “Bullfrog Blues” and Mose Vinson sounds like he is having great fun in this solo piano/vocal version which ends when he completely cracks up. Charlie Feathers’ “Defrost Your Heart” is pure country before the CD ends with “I’d Love To Be A Hippie” by Jim Dickinson. Jim was a much-respected figure on the Memphis scene and this song has amusing lyrics but the live recording does him no favors as he sings in a distorted, screaming fashion.
As an accompaniment to what may well be an interesting book on the Memphis scene this album may fit OK but on its own it is quite a difficult listen.