Gail Ceasar – Guitar Woman Blues | Album Review

Gail Ceasar – Guitar Woman Blues

Music Maker Foundation LC VOL56

12 songs – 29 minutes

Sometimes it takes a miracle for an artist to find a major audience, and that’s exactly the case for Piedmont-style guitarist Gail Ceasar. A little more than a year ago, she was at home in rural Virginia when she smelled smoke, and in a heartbeat, her furnace exploded and her home went up in flames.

She, her mom and her year-old niece were spared. But she was only able to grab her pocketbook and phone before the flames consumed everything else she held dear, including her guitars and amp, seemingly robbing her of her only means of making a living. Fortunately, one of the first calls she made was to Music Maker Foundation, the North Carolina-based non-profit, which came to her aid.

Music Maker has provided support for dozens of blues artists in dire need or failing health since its founding by Tim Duffy in 1994 with a roster that’s included such major artists as Guitar Gabriel, Precious Bryant, Ernie K-Doe, Jerry “Boogie” McLain and scores of lesser-known names, too, all of whom have been supported by donations along with a growing catalog of CDs like this one, too.

Born in Pittsville, Va. – a hamlet halfway between Lynchburg and Danville – in 1984, Gail grew up in a family of stone masons, storytellers and musicians. Her uncle, Pete Witcher – a traveling country bluesman, taught her how to play during his trips through town. Today, Ceasar attacks the strings in an authentic, rhythmic Piedmont fingerpicking style that would make her musical forbears Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake and Buddy Moss smile. The notes she plays on her new Martin acoustic ring like a bell, and she’s got a sweet soprano to match.

Gail makes her recording debut with this album, delivering a set culled from classics that bridge the Piedmont, country, bluegrass and blues traditionals. The sole exception is the title tune, her first-ever composition.

First recorded by Henry Whitter in 1923, “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” opens the action with Ceasar deftly playing lead on the higher strings in counterpoint to rhythm on the lower ones. The steady-rolling original, “Guitar Woman Blues,” follows and includes a stellar fretwork that includes two tasty guitar breaks. “Uncloudy Day,” a traditional gospel number made famous by the Staple Singers in the ‘50s and Bob Dylan in the ‘60s, is up next before Gail reinterprets Jimmy Reed’s familiar “You Don’t Have to Go” into a honeyed country blues.

Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train” and the country standard, “Rocky Top,” bookend a great instrumental take of “Blues Stay Away from Me,” a number penned by ‘30s Grand Ole Opry stars The Delmore Brothers. “Sweet Home Chicago,” which follows, has roots that extend far earlier than when Robert Johnson first recorded it, and Gail’s reading has a rich, traditional feel.

“Hear My Mother Play” – a tune by John Whitfield Vaughan, who penned hits for Thomas Dorsey in the ‘20s – precedes Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind” and the traditional “I’m Not the One” before “The Refuge of My Soul,” a pre-War gospel number by J.B. Coats, brings the action to a close.

Unfamiliar with Piedmont blues? Give this one a listen. It’s like candy for your ears, and you’ll be craving more!

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