Various Artists – Carrying On the Legacy
CD: 20 Songs, 73 Minutes
Styles: Piedmont Blues, Blues Compilations
Carrying on the Legacy is, in a word, encyclopedic. Why do encyclopedias remain the gold standard of information in the days of Wiki? The answer is threefold: their info is factual, thorough, and vetted. This outstanding compilation from Rockville, MD’s Patuxent Music ranks right up with Britannica. Every one of its twenty entries, under P for Piedmont, is a genuine article. From William Lee Ellis’ “Trouble I Once Knew” to Phil Wiggins’ “Roberta” to Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Going Down,” this subgenre is explored with discursive gusto. It’s a must-have for any blues scholar, and it’ll turn fans into scholars. In fact, it’s a companion CD to the book Sweet Bitter Blues (Phil Wiggins and Frank Matheis, University Press of Mississippi).
States Matheis in the album’s liner notes: “When Phil Wiggins and I wrote the book, we reflected on the acoustic local blues scene during the life and times of Phil Wiggins in his own African-American community. At its core, the D.C. area ‘down home’ blues scene was rooted with a small group of musicians, proud and beloved men and women…The musicians in Washington, D.C. who are no longer with us have left an important legacy: ‘Carry on this music. Keep it going.’ Our friends and compatriots who are featured on this collection were all connected in some way to the elders, [carrying on] the Piedmont tradition and related acoustic roots music with passion, love and reverence.”
These friends and compatriots constitute an extensive list: Eleanor Ellis, Phil Wiggins, Erin Harpe, Neil Harpe, Rick Franklin, Tom Mindte, Piedmont Bluz Acoustic Duo, Mike Baytop, Jay Summerour, M.S.G. Acoustic Blues Trio, Warner Williams, the Chesapeake Sheiks, Lauren Sheehan, Resa Gibbs, and Dom Turner. Each one of the tracks they present has been featured on a different album, listed in the liner notes for further listening and research.
From the beginning, the album casts a poignant spell. Eleanor Ellis’ haunting, world-weary vocals chant its first incantation: “Body was broken, spirit set free. Body was broken, spirit set free. Body was broken, spirit set free. Fare ye well, fare ye well.” The second track, “Harmonica Rag,” is one of the spiciest tunes in this collection. After the opener, it’ll cause a serious case of mood whiplash. Better play air harp while you can, because it’s only one minute long! Other highlights include the hilarious “Winnie the Wailer” (who loves many a sailor), “Standing on the Landing” (another harp-based hit), and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” almost orchestral in its beauty yet earthy enough to make the dead hit the dance floor.
Some may compare Carrying on the Legacy to Will the Circle Be Unbroken, but they’d only be half-right. Overall, Circle had a conversational, nearly improvisational vibe to it. Legacy lays out its treasures with care and caution, the reverence Frank Matheis mentions. Peruse this CD and its companion book Sweet Bitter Blues at your leisure, long-time Piedmont fans or newcomers!