Wednesday, March 31, 1999

Underground Blues

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Bare-bones blues from straight out the ground is what this is. Uncut. Rough. Just like homebrewed whiskey from back in the woods. Restless white lightnin’ captured in a thick blue bottle.

Or put it this way: If you like cream in your coffee, you should probably leave these blues alone. This stuff is full strength, man.

Thing is, the blues are doing well and that’s good. But part of the reason for that success is the crossover element, which means that much of the modern blues sound has created a fan base totally unfamiliar with the sounds that started it all. Praising the leaves and stomping on the root. As these CDs demonstrate so well, the root may be underground but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. Just means you’ve gotta dig to get a good look.

So if you haven’t heard of these guys, don’t be shocked. Sometimes authenticity is pretty hard to market in these here United States.

But damn. I mean, you’d think a guy like Guitar Gabriel, who is recorded here for the first time in 30 years and who has performed in recent years at such esteemed venues as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, would at least be getting a more prominent profile. Then again, maybe not. After all, not only is Gabriel guilty of playing the stripped-down roots blues, but he’s doing it acoustically with the barest amount of accompaniment.

Bare-bones blues.

Hell, on more than one of Neal Pattman’s cuts the man doesn’t have any accompaniment at all. Just the man, his voice and a harmonica. Cootie Stark, a blind street singer who was studying up on the blues with guys with names like Uncle Chump and Pink Anderson back in the 1930s, also has several acoustic numbers featuring just his voice and his guitar.

But you’ve gotta hear what he says about the CD’s first song, "Metal Bottoms": "Chilly Winds and I were walking down into Metal Bottoms and we started singing that song when daylight was coming up one Sunday morning. Chilly used to sing, play washboard and blow his harp around Greenville. We traveled together for about a year. Metal Bottoms was swinging, it was a place where people had a good time, lived, fought and cut one another and the police would lock them up. Some of them would get hurt and we sang this song."

I mean, damn.

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