Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – sets 5 and 6 | Album Review

Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – sets 5 and 6

Nimbus Records

6 discs in each set

The Matchbox Bluesmaster series was released from November 1982 to June 1988 by Saydisc Records. Rare 78 rpm records were loaned to supplement the ones on hand to create what was called “Complete Recordings in Chronological Order” along with some add on tracks. These records were mastered on tape and released on vinyl.

Austrian collector Johnny Parth edited the sets and got the recordings grouped and released by Saydisc in the UK. Hans Klement did the remastering work from Austrophon Studios in Vienna. The tracks selected were released in seven sets of six records and are here released on CD. The master tapes have long since vanished, so Norman White took the vinyl pressings and used high end transcription techniques to make the digital recordings. In addition to the 42 releases in these seven sets, even more music is expected for release as they have many pre-Bluesmaster cuts that can be released.

This music is early blues, originally released from 1926 to 1934; two cuts are from 1950, but the rest are from the ‘20’s and ‘30’s. Blues, gospel and hokum music (humorous blues with lots of sexual innuendos) were the order of the day for black recordings; labels like OKEH searched far and wide for artists to record, finding people on street corners, juke joints, and other places. This music that rose from the plantations and made its’ way into the urban centers became the impetus for urban blues, R&B and rock and roll.

Paul Oliver provides ample notes and data on each set of CDs. Oliver is a jazz and blues historian who has written 10 books on blues and gospel history and passed away in 2017 after a long career as a music historian and architect. He provides copious notes in a booklet for each set.

The quality of the sound of the songs ranges from fairly good to sometimes just listenable. Most are decent and offer the listener an in depth look at early blues as it was in the beginning of the recording era. I was provided Sets 5 and 6 for review. Each set was shipped with a one disc sampler of the six CD sets which give the listener an insight into the music, but it is the complete sets that make for an in depth and comprehensive listen of early artists honing their craft. The Matchbox Bluesmaster Series is released here by UK publishing company Nimbus Records. The series was produced by Gef Lucena.

Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – set 5 is comprised of six CDs with one artist per CD. They are Blind Lemon Jefferson (1926-1929), Frank Stokes (1927-1929), Blind Blake (1926-1929), Big Bill Broonzy (1927-1932), the Mississippi Sheiks Vol. 1 (1930) and Lonnie Johnson Vol. 1 (1926-1928). It is interesting to contrast the raw and emotive work of Jefferson to the more urban and polished performances of the likes of Broonzy and Johnson. The Memphis Sheiks reside in a soft spot in my heart and hearing them here and later on the next set gave me great joy.  Broonzy went on to a lucrative and long performing and recording career and the Sheiks have recently had newly remasters stuff on high grade vinyl released, but the primal sounds here are something to appreciate. Another gem is Blind Blake’s CD. His superb vocals and guitar are something to truly savor. And if you want a chuckle or two, Stokes serves up some bawdy and humorous tunes to enjoy.

Matchbox Blues Master Series – set 6 offers six CDs, again with one artist per CD. They are Papa Charlie Jackson (1924-1929 recordings), the Memphis Jug Band (1927-1934), Barbeque Bob (1927-1930), Leecan & Cooksey (1926-1927), Roosevelt Sykes (1929-1934) and the Mississippi Sheiks Vol. 2 (1930-1934). More Sheiks? Great stuff! Wild and cool jug band tunes from Memphis and Papa Charlie Jackson’s high energy banjo are something to really appreciate. Leecan & Cooksey and Barbecue Bob offer more in the joyful and boisterous times of the 1920’s. And if it is dark and dirty and deeper blues you are looking for, then look no further than Roosevelt Sykes. He and the artists on his CD offer up some truly inspired tunes.

Each album on it’s own is a wonderful listen; each of the 6 CD sets is amazing and the 7 sets make up a huge collection of early blues that give the listeners mush to appreciate. Whether you are new to this music or a seasoned blues fan, these recordings are an amazing combination of music that can be enjoyed over and over again. The nuances and glimpses into what created our music over the years and up to today are here in these recordings.

These bluesmasters gave us the roots of all of America’s popular music and having this huge collection to savor gives the listener a superb view of blues as it began to be put down on records. I most highly recommend these sets to new and old blues lovers. There is something on each CD for the listener to appreciate and the sets become a huge compendium of great music for the collections of listeners.

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