Various Artists – Blue 88s: Unreleased Piano Blues Gems 1938-1942 | Album Review

Various Artists  – Blue 88s – Unreleased Piano Blues Gems-1938-1942

Featuring Curtis Jones, Roosevelt Sykes, Willie “Boodle It” Right, Poor Boy Burke

Hi Horse Records

17 songs time-47:49

Hi Horse Records has unearthed fifteen never released piano blues songs from the late 30s-early 40s, along with two previously released. During that time piano blues was extremely popular. The piano blues typically covered subjects such as having the blues, sex, women and other observations of life in those times.  It was pretty raw stuff, often devoid of melody in the vocals, although the piano accompaniment was quite lively and dexterous.

The one player most prominently displayed here is Roosevelt Sykes. You could consider this a Roosevelt Sykes album with five bonus tracks from other artists. Willie “Boodle It” Right is just the vocalist on his one track. Joshua Altheimer provides the piano playing.

The two songs credited to Poor Boy Burke are surrounded by mystery. The liner notes conjecture that it is really St. Louis Jimmy Oden recording under an alias as he was contracted to a different record label. St. Louis Jimmy Oden was the author of the blues classic “Going Down Slow”. As Roosevelt Sykes was his usual piano accompanist, the liner notes suggest that he was present on these tracks as well.

Roosevelt Sykes was a major blues star in his day. He penned such blues classics as “Driving Wheel”, Night Time Is The Right Time” and “44 Blues”. He virtually pounded the keys. He toured extensively including Europe.

“My Blues Is Risin'” by Curtis Jones is a typical period piece. He possessed a good blues voice and was a quality piano player. The only drawback is the “tinny” guitar that is low in the mix. His other contribution “Levee Side Blues” shows his slower side.

Willie “Boodle It Right’s sole contribution here “Xmas Blues” isn’t a Christmas song at all. The title refers to the lyric-“Ah, if you try to give a woman everything she need, Ah, she will cause you to take Christmas in your BVDs”. It’s a song about greedy woman. Joshua Altheimer handles the piano chores. He played on over fifty sides with Big Bill Broonzy.

Poor Boy Burke’s(probably St. Louis Jimmy Oden) “Bad Condition Blues” is a classic about run down woman. “Your Loving Ways” also features strong voice along with probably Sykes’ sturdy piano skills along for the ride.

The twelve tracks by Roosevelt Sykes run the gamut from slow low down blues to upbeat swingers. Subject matter includes the sure fire blues subject of women, the military draft and various life observations. He leads off with “Mellow Queen Swing”, with his signature lively piano thumping. His sparse accompaniment consists of upright bass and/or electric guitar throughout. The classic blues form of double entendre is represented by the car analogies of “Floating Power Blues”. One of two released songs “Training Camp Blues” bemoans the draft and missing one’s wife during the duration. The upbeat “Back Biting Snitchers” has some really nice boogie woogie piano. Sykes’ portrays himself as a mind reader in “From The Cradle To The Grave”.

A good representation of this popular category of the blues is laid out here.

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