David Evans – Under The Yam Yam Tree
13 songs – 55 minutes
Blind Lemon Records – BLR-CD1401
One of the world’s foremost blues scholars in addition to being an outstanding acoustic guitarist, David Evans leaves the classroom to deliver his second CD for German-based Blind Lemon Records, some of the lovingly delivered 13 tunes here are familiar while others are obscure gems from the first generation of blues superstars.
Now in semi-retirement, Evans has been a faculty member at the University of Memphis for the better part of the past 40 years, serving as chairman of the ethnomusicology department. A 2003 Grammy winner for the liner notes to “Screamin’ And Hollerin’ The Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton,” he’s written several important books in the blues field, edited others and run the university’s High Water Recording Company, which has provided a worldwide voice to several area musicians who either had never set foot in a studio or were woefully under-recorded.
When he isn’t researching his latest field of interest, the music of Ethiopia, Evans is also in high demand as a performer, both solo and as a member of the Last Chance Jug Band, often delighting audiences with shows that last for hours, and his catalog includes four previous discs on the Inside Sounds and Heavywood imprints. Well-versed in many of the arcane guitar tunings of the past and extremely familiar with his forbearers’ stylings, his performance – as evidenced in this CD – is wholly his own rather than note-for-note copy of tunes laid down on acetate in the ‘20s though the early ‘40s.
Evans kicks off the album before a live audience with a finger-picked slide guitar version of “Railroad Blues” inspired by the stylings Furry Lewis. Thomas Schleiken, who produced the disc, accompanies him on second guitar on three numbers, and Evans adds some accents on kazoo. His tenor voice is powerful and fretwork exceptional. “Louisiana Blues,” influenced by Muddy Waters’ song of the same title and Little Brother Montgomery’s classic “Vicksburg Blues,” is up next, drenched with a Delta feel, before a traditional rendition of William Harris’ “Bullfrog Blues,” which was hugely popular when recorded by Canned Heat in the ‘60s.
“Aunt Caroline Dye Blues” is original treatment with material borrowed from Will Shade, W.C. Handy, Madame Van Hunt and Jessie Mae Hemphill. It tells the story of an Arkansas-based fortune teller who’s “never told a lie.” “See See Rider,” not a cover of the Ma Rainey hit but close to the tune as delivered by Babe Stovall, is up next before a rousing take on Washboard Sam’s “Who Pumped The Wind In My Doughnut?” The familiar rag guitar run that kicks off the tune is an old friend to a blues audience.
“Every Day In The Week Blues,” based on Ish Bracey’s “Saturday Blues,” slows the pace before a reinterpretation of Johnny Temple’s haunting tale of a wayward woman, “Louise.” Another Stovall offering, “The Ship Is At The Landing,” precedes a take on Elester Anderson’s version of the standard “Careless Love,” the only song in the Piedmont tradition on the record. Three more tunes recorded live at a 250-year-old guest house in Munich — Robert Petway’s “Catfish Blues,” William Moore’s “One Way Gal” and Tommy Johnson warhorse “Canned Heat Blues” – conclude the effort.
If you love good, old fashioned country blues, you’ll love this one. The material Evans has chosen is as vibrant today as the day it was written. The sole drawback is that it’s only available from the label website. But order it. It will be worth the wait.