At the heart of all great jazz, R&B and rock is the blues. Unlike many other music forms, the blues is timeless—relying largely on the creativity and ingenuity of the artist rather than wholesale re-invention. [Illustration above by R. Crumb] Here are five terrific new blues CDs that crossed my desk in the past few weeks:
Freddie King: The Complete King and Federal Singles (Real Gone). Recorded between 1960 and '67, the tracks on this remastered two-CD set provide a snapshot of the blues over a period that parallels the rise of British rock—before albums began to dominate. Influenced by Jimmy Rogers and Muddy Waters, King plucked the guitar strings with a plastic thumb pick and a metal index-finger pick—producing a hard attack that greatly influenced blues-smitten Invasion bands. Sample San-Ho-Zay! from 1961. Way ahead of its time. Go here.
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup: Sunny Road (Delmark). Crudup wrote That's All Right, My Baby Left Me and So Glad You're Mine—all covered by Elvis Presley. But more important, the Delta bluesman could be starkly captivating while singing and playing acoustic guitar. A Mississippi migrant worker, Crudup began performing in the late '30s, recorded in the '40s but stopped in 1951 over royalty battles. Fortunately, he resumed in the mid-'60s for Delmark. This previously unreleased 1969 studio session is remarkable for Crudup's addictive wailing and jangly strumming. Sample Tryin' to Take Me for a Ride and She Gives Me a Thrill. Go here.
Otis Taylor: My World Is Gone (Telarc). Roots-blues songwriter and guitarist Otis Taylor weaves a textured tribute to Native Americans, fusing a fascinating range of instruments and beats. For example, Taylor plays blues banjo on several tracks, backed by organ and trumpet. The result is exhilarating, since the ear is fully engaged. Sample Huckleberry Blues and Coming With Crosses. It's like listening to the soundtrack of a Western—from the Native Americans' perspective. Go here.
Bobby Rush: Down in Louisiana (Deep Rush). The singer-guitarist has united his brand of funky blues with zydeco for a sharp tribute to the swamps and roadhouses of his youth in the Creole State. Songs feature Rush's trademark note-bending, harmonica and tightly arranged horns. A 2004 stroke sidelined him for a spell but, judging by this new CD, Rush seems to have recovered sufficiently. Sample Tight Money, What Is the Blues and Rock This House. Go here.
Robert Randolph Presents the Slide Brothers (Concord). The Slide Brothers are Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent—electric pedal steel guitarists who have neatly combined twangy rock and earthy gospel. What you hear is an electric, vibrating sound that zig-zags through metallic blues and call-and-response vocals. Sample My Sweet Lord and It Hurts Me Too. Go here.