Various artists – Home Town Skiffle: Matchbox Bluesmaster Series Set 10 | Album Review

Various artists – Home Town Skiffle: Matchbox Bluesmaster Series Set 10

Saydisc Matchbox Bluesmaster Records MSESET10

78 songs – 236 minutes on 6 CDs

A label that specializes in music from all corners of the globe, Britain’s Saydisc Records made a splash in the 1980s with the release of its Matchbox Bluesmaster series – 42 richly annotated LPs that captured first-generation bluesmen laying down the foundation for what fans around the world enjoy today. If you missed out on them then, you can enjoy them now through their reissue as ten reasonably priced, six-CD sets, of which this is the final installment.

The series debuted in 2021 with Country Blues & Ragtime Blues Guitar 1926-30, which featured the works of Texas Alexander, Peg Leg Howell, Buddy Boy Hawkins, Papa Harvey Hull and a dozen other artists, all of whom sounded as if they were playing in your living room. While the music on this one contains a wealth of material, its primary focus is Piedmont blues giant Blind Boy Fuller and harmonica pioneer Sonny Boy Williamson, both of whom recorded into the ‘40s, before shifting focus to early female vocalists and then concluding with a healthy sampling of tunes that spanned the pre-War blues and folk spectrum.

Accompanying each of the discs are the same extensive liner notes – penned by Tony Russell and David Harrison — that appeared on the original pressings and provide a rich background into the artists and their works, all of which are packaged in the 32-page accompanying booklet.

Discs One and Two – originally issued as Blind Boy Fuller on Down Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 – put the spotlight on one of the most influential six-string stylists of the era. A South Carolina native who left us in the early 40s at age 36, his melodic attack rings true from the opening of “What’s That Smells Like Fish” to the closing notes of “Where My Woman Usta Lay” on the first CD, which contains 12 other classic numbers, including “Weeping Willow,” “Get Your Yas Yas Out” – with backing from Sonny Terry and Bull City Red, “Corrine” and “Mean and No Good Woman.”

The second set includes two more Fuller standards, “Walking and Looking Blues” and “Working Man Blues,” but the focus shifts quickly to artists he influenced, including Buddy Moss, Blind Gary Davis, Sonny Jones, Ralph Willis, Dan Pickett and Curley Weaver along with Brownie McGhee, who recorded in that period as “Blind Boy Fuller No. 2.”

Disc Three – first released as Sonny Boy and His Pals – displays the evolution of the raw country sound to what we now recognize as the modern blues sound. Williamson shows his talent on harp and vocals through the first seven tracks with backing from future superstar guitarist Big Bill Broonzy, pianists Walter and Blind John Davis, bassist Ransom Knowling and others before stepping into the background in support of mandolinist/vocalist Yank Rachell for six cuts and then Big Joe Williams on the closer.

Women come to the forefront on Disc Four – Those Cakewalking Babies from Home, which includes two stellar songs each from Lucille Bogan and Memphis Minnie. But the bulk of the set shines a light on several ladies whose careers have been obscured by time, including Sara Martin, who fronted a jug band, and vocalists Bernice Edwards, Madlyn Davis, Lulu Jackson, Mae Glover, Gladys Bentley and Annie Turner in lineups that include appearances from pianist Little Brother Montgomery, Tampa Red and Georgia Tom.

Discs Five and Six – Skoodle Um Skoo: Early Folk Blues Vol. 1 and Home Town Skiffle: Early Folk Blues Vol. 2 – provide an extensive sampling that turns back the clock even farther and gives a listen to what Russell terms “the pre-history of the blues.” Among the highlights are appearances from Stovepipe No. 1, a novelty act who doubled on guitar and harp, vaudeville banjo star Charlie Jackson, Walter Jackson and the Carter Brothers – the precursor to the Mississippi Sheiks – who appear in all their glory on the closing CD, Blind Blake – billed as Billy James in one of his final recordings, the Beale Street Sheiks – and other top talents.

Home Town Skiffle is a treat for anyone with an interest in pre-War blues.

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