De Blues

Jun 2, 1999 at 12:00 am

Yes, this is good stuff, and as authentic as it gets. It is especially gratifying to see a collection of historic blues material from women, who are so often overlooked yet so integral to the story of this original American musical art form. But before going any further in praise of these two CDs, I have a nagging question: Were all those women really born in an alley somewhere, then raised up in a slum? Sure, they were probably poor, but that part about the alley is suspect. Still, when it comes to blues, especially blues performed by black women from more than 60 years ago, it seems like these are the kinds of titles that sell CDs. After all, if these women were born in an alley and raised in a slum, then they just got to have de blues, ain’t dat right?

As for Lowdown Barrelhouse Piano, it’s interesting to note that these men – all the artists on this CD are men – apparently didn’t benefit from the authentic blues-style good fortune of being born in an alley. And yet, somehow each and every one of these guys managed to produce keyboard-driven blues that sound just as uncut and down-home real as those slum-dwelling alley women. Imagine that.

Sorry, but it had to be said.

Now about the quality of these releases. Considering that each of these songs is remastered from recordings made 60 or 70 years ago, the sound quality is excellent. You’d expect to hear a few scratches, and you do, but the sound of tickled keys comes through just as clear as can be. Sounds as if someone’s playing in the next room. In many cases, the sound of the piano and whoever is singing is all that you’ll hear. No drums. No guitar. No bass. Just keys. Funny thing is, you probably won’t even notice the absence of other instruments, at least not right away, because the sound is just that full. Pay attention to the lyrics, too. Sometimes comical, other times sad and rubbed raw, they are most always both poetic and direct, no room for frills or wasted words.

Just room enough for the blues.