Big Bill Broonzy – Big Bill Broonzy Sings Folk Songs | Album Review

Big Bill Broonzy  Big Bill Broonzy Sings Folk Songs

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

LP Format 180g Remastered

Side A – 5 Tracks/17:25

Side B – 6 Tracks/17:37

With the resurgence in recent years for recordings in the LP format, Blues Blast Magazine is now reviewing releases submitted for review in that format, starting with this reissued classic.

Album reviews will comment on the music as well as the sonic aspects of the recording.

This album, originally released by Moses Asch in 1962 on his Folkways label, this Big Bill Broonzy collection has been reissued on 180 gram vinyl with remastering done by Grammy recipient Pete Reininger, who digitized the original recording tapes for remastering rather than taking a chance on damaging the fragile tapes. Part of the Vinyl Me, Please series, the album comes with a card for a free digital download, a wild poster print by artist McKenzie Nelson, and an eight page booklet with the original liner notes, track listing, song lyrics, and a new essay by Bob Riesman, the author of the award-winning biography I Feel So Good: The Life And Times Of Big Bill Broonzy.

Broonzy was in failing health by 1956, but you would never know it listening to his powerful performances. The first side starts off with Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues”. Broonzy’s plaintive vocal commands your attention,accompanied by his fine guitar picking. The remastered mono recording places the singer and guitar right in front of you, with depth to the soundstage, giving it a “live” feel.

Some of the tracks were recorded in concert by WFMT radio at Northwestern University. The gospel classic “This Train” is from that performance, with Broonzy’s driving guitar taking over as the audience joins in on singing You can hear Broonzy’s voice echoing in the hall when he leans away from the microphone. He adds several verses that look forward to a day when skin color no longer matters. “I Don’t Want No Woman (To Try To Be My Boss)” is pure country blues, as is “Martha,” a highlight of the disc as the singer’s mournful cries express his longing for his woman. The final track on Side 1, “Tell Me Who,” highlights his dexterity on the guitar on a cheating song.

The tempo picks up considerably on a short, rousing take of “Bill Bailey” that starts Side 2, followed by a jaunty run-through of his original “Alberta”. After the deep blues on the reverse side, these folk tunes reveal another facet of Broonzy’s musical personality. He finishes off “Goin’ Down This Road” with a vocal flourish that stops you dead in your tracks. Switching back to gospel, the singer is eager to understand more on “Tell Me What Kind Of Man Jesus Is”. On another folk classic, “John Henry,” Broonzy picks at a rapid tempo, singing as if he himself was trying to beat the steam drill. Pete Seeger joins in on banjo and vocal. The closing number, “The Glory Of Love,” keeps the focus on Broonzy’s impressive guitar picking until he adds several verses with a subdued vocal.

This one is certainly one of the high points of Broonzy’s career, with the deep blues tracks on the first side being the main highlights. The sound on the LP format is top-notch, placing the singer in the middle of your listening space. A must for acoustic blues listeners and anyone else looking for a fine sounding album to add to their vinyl collection.

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