Various Artists – The Blues & Salvation|Album Review

bluesandsalvationcdVarious Artists – The  Blues & Salvation

Labor Records

38 Tracks-Running Time   1:39:49

This double cd set is a great primer for the uninitiated and a required addition to the collection of the connoisseurs of folk inflected country Blues. Much of this compilation is heretofore unreleased adding it to the Holy Grail of Blues guitar pickin’.

Several traditions and artists  are represented here; Piedmont Style, Blues, Gospel & Spirituals from the trailblazing stylings of  Reverend Gary Davis. Gospel from The Wooten Singers. Country  Folk from Jemima James, Piedmont Style Blues from the recently deceased George Higgs (including a duet with Jemima James. Louisiana Red with and without Lefty Dizz. Blues duo Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee are included at their peak.  Obscure artists Deneen McEachern and Bob Malenky are also included.

A pleasant surprise were the Piedmont stylings of North Carolina native George Higgs.  He is the first artist heard on disk one. First influenced by Deford Bailey, first African-American artist ever on the Grand Ole Opry, Higgs also studied the licks of fellow North Carolinians  Blind Boy Fuller and Sonny Terry. Higgs has five tracks on the compilation including a duet with folk stylist Jemima James. Tasty stuff.

Louisiana Red has four tracks, one a lively duet with Lefty Dizz entitled, “Going Train Blues.” Though the imagery of riding by train is a common motif in  the Blues, these two conductors take us on a nice ride, nonetheless.  Witness Louisiana Red calling for his own solo in the 3rd person-  “Awrite, Red got it now, Lefty!”   Shades of effortless mastery from these forerunners of funk.

The great Brownie McGhee is featured on two tracks.  “Rainy Day” is McGhee’s vocal and guitar juxtaposed against a snare drum with brushes, suggesting perhaps raindrops on a rainy day. The second track is a duet with his long time performance partner, harmonica ace,  Sonny Terry in a live recording of “Baby Please Don’t Go.”  Sonny Terry also duets with eclectic Folk Blues practitioner Bob Malenky on “One Woman Man.”

The Blues & Salvation is anchored around the 12 track offerings of the legendary Reverend Gary Davis. Much of the lore surrounding his mystique is the duality of his conviction to Christianity and his excellence as a Piedmont Blues player, Gospel and Ragtime master,  capable of playing four part harmonies with rhythm and lead parts simultaneously.

The right Reverend gave instruction to many notable players including Dave Bromberg, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Dave Von Ronk, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan and countless others including Stefan Grossman who quotes Davis as teaching him that, “You’ve got three hands to play guitar and only two for piano…”

All 12 of the Reverend Gary Davis tracks are worth the price of admission.  From the  suggestive  double entendre (cd1 track 14, “Come Down And See Me Sometime”) to the spiritually uplifting balm of Christ crucified (cd1 track 10, “Crucifiction”), the fiery guitar of Reverend Davis, talks, cries, shouts, wails and whispers the trials and tribulations of a street artist/preacher/teacher whose Blues flame still burns in the consciousness of many players past and present.

A highlight for this reviewer is the six minute sermon on cd 1 track 11. The Reverend Davis explains how he “ran from preachin’ for eighteen years,”  then confined to a sickbed of affliction, gave in to the calling. The theme of the sermon is simply living right vs. living wrong.  Eerily, the loudest “Amen” in this recording sounds like Mississippi Delta Bluesman Son House.  A Son House cover contained within a Blind Gary Davis sermon.  Phenomenal. Only on earth and Heaven.

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