Son House – Forever on My Mind | Album Review

Son House – Forever on My Mind

Easy Eye Sound EES-024

8 songs – 44 minutes

One of the most important bluesmen who bridged both the pre-War and folk-boom eras, Son House continues to live on through frequent compilation albums, but none of them are as fresh as this eight-song set – a never-heard-before collection that was recorded a short time after his “rediscovery” in 1964 and sat on a bookshelf in the home of one of the folks who found him unheard until now.

Born in Lyon, Miss., on March 21, 1902, Edward “Son” House Jr. grew up in a church-going family and hated the blues as a youth but loved music thanks to his tuba-playing father. As a young minister, his love for booze and women left his life in conflict, and he fell in love with bottleneck guitar – and blues — after hearing one of his drinking companions play.

He began gigging a few weeks after acquiring his first guitar at age 25, spent a couple of years in the notorious Parchman Farm prison following a juke joint shootout, but became a rising star shortly after his release when first-generation superstar Charley Patton caught him busking on the street and took him under his wing.

When Patton recorded for Paramount Records in 1930, Son came along for the ride, laying down nine songs himself – eight of which were released but failed to sell. He performed with Patton until Charley’s death in 1934 and then with another major star, Willie Brown. And Alan Lomax recorded him twice for the Library of Congress in the early ‘40s. But by 1943, he’d vanished, relocating to Rochester, N.Y., where he worked as a porter and chef for New York Central Railroad.

He remained invisible until 1964 when — at the height of the folk boom that brought country blues to prominence — three young blues lovers – Dick Waterman, Nick Perls and Phil Spero – showed up at his door scouring the Delta for him. Then 62, Son was completely unaware that his old 78s were now playing around the world on LPs been rereleased by Folkways and Original Jazz Library.

The songs you’ll hear here were captured on reel-to-reel tape when House performed before about 50 people at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., on Nov. 23, 1964 – five months prior to Son’s first “modern” session for Columbia’s Father of Folk Blues LP and during a time when Son was taking lessons from Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, one of his biggest fans, to learn how to play like himself because he hadn’t touched an instrument in decades.

Kept on a bookshelf in Waterman’s home for the next 58 years, they’ve been remastered in crystal-clear clarity by M. Allen Parker at Easy Eye Sound in Nashville, the label owned by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. They capture Son in what can only be described as his fresh-out-of-the-Delta, natural state prior to any of the studio and live albums – and devoid of the stories and performance patter that dominated the final years of his performing life.

Deeply nuanced guitar licks and a trance-like feel dominate throughout beginning with “Forever on My Mind,” a tune that House played frequently live but never recorded in studio. A haunting ballad that describes a woman “who told me you loved me, but I believe you told a lie,” it’s described in the liner notes as a “living lesson in the improvisatory Delta blues” because it incorporates a taste of Brown’s classic, “Future Blues.”

The mood brightens and the pace quickens slightly for “Preachin’ Blues” in which Son announces that he’s going to get religion, join the Baptist church and become a “preacher so I won’t have to work” – which draws an immediate response from one of the women in the audience who shouts: “I’ll be so glad when this corn liquor runs out!”

A unique step-down run on the strings opens “Empire State Express,” a sprightly blues that finds House in the railroad station and begging the agent for permission “to ride the blinds” – hobo underneath the covering between two passenger cars – before House launches into his standard, “Death Letter,” which is built along the same structure of one of his earliest recordings, “My Black Mama, Part 2.”

Sweet slide runs kick off “The Way Mother Did,” which hints at Barbecue Bob’s “Motherless Child” throughout, before yielding to the bittersweet, “Louise McGhee,” a song of separation in which the singer’s “hours seem like days.” Two more true-blue standards — Patton’s “Pony Blues” and “Levee Camp Moan” – bring the set to a pleasing close.

Son House never sounded better than he does here. Essential listening for anyone with a love for real-deal country blues. It’s 58 years in coming, but definitely worth the wait!

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