Walk Right In Album reviews.
Release Date: 08.20.02
Record label: RCA
How It All Started
by: matt cibula
This first disc in the When the Sun Goes Down set is supposed to cover all the "early blues styles" that would later turn into all the other forms of music of the 20th century. That doesn't mean that it is chronologically earlier than any other When the Sun Goes Down discs; this set doesn't work like that. What it means is that Walk Right In is the set's rough overview of the full spectrum of blues music in the 1920s and 1930s, when it was first being recorded.
And don't go around thinking you know what "the blues" means, either. This disc may start out with the archetypical blues pieces "Catfish Blues" and "Baby, Please Don't Go," but quickly branches out to cover work chants (Leadbelly's "Ham an' Eggs"), Cajun stylings ("Les Blues de Voyage," by Amédé Ardoin and Denus McGee), country-folk (The Carter Family rendition of "Worried Man Blues"), jug bands, preachers, and more. Put side to side like this, it's pretty easy to see the influences of blues music on these other genres, and even to see some of the back-influences too.
It's easy to make too much of "Here is the birthplace of the blues" with each new song, so don't do it. Mostly what you get here are wonderful singles that still sound great today. Not that they'd actually get played on the radio or anything—they're too raw and out-there for that. There's no way that Julius Daniels would get on TRL with his acoustic "Ninety-Nine Year Blues": "On Monday I was arrested / On Tuesday I was tried / And the judge found me guilty / And I hung my head and cried," no matter how much passion and sadness and resilience are poured into his performance. Poor Bessie Tucker wouldn't get any play, despite her tough-ass gangsta style and real-life prison experience: "I got cut all to pieces / About a man I loved / I'm gonna get that woman / Just as sure as the skies above." And as important and influential as Paul Robeson was in his life and in his operatic baritone vocals, his version of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" wouldn't make it past the one-minute mark at the Apollo Amateur Hour.
But if our modern tastes aren't in tune with these songs, it's our fault rather than anything wrong with them. In fact, a good case could be made that music gets worse the further it strays from the blues. If today's wimp/shriek nu-metal groups or hard-time rappers had any idea that their shtick had already been done before by Big Bill Broonzy in "Mississippi River Blues" or Tommy Johnson in "Cool Drink of Water Blues" (with its excellent "I asked her for water / She gave me gasoline" line, still classic after 74 years), they'd suck less and mean more. And anyone who dares to criticize blues music as defeatist and hampered by "slave mentality" would do well to check out the fiery black pride of the sermon by Rev. J.M. Gates called "Somebody's Been Stealin'," in which he decries slavery and makes a great case for African-American pride…in 1928. Awesome.
This is a compilation based on Victor and Bluebird material, so it's not the definitive overview of all blues people ever—there's no Robert Johnson, for instance, nor do Bessie Smith or Billie Holiday make appearances. But this first disc demonstrates that this one company did more to help rhythm and blues and rock & roll and country and all their many children and cousins than just about anything else. 18-Sep-2002 7:25 PM