The First Time I Met the Blues Album reviews.
Release Date: 08.20.02
Record label: RCA
The Lost Classics
by: matt cibula
Disc #2 in the When the Sun Goes Down series purports to collect the " 'original greatest hits' of the blues," and there are many songs here that we know better in their many remakes. If you ever liked the Grateful Dead's version of "Viola Lee Blues," you'll be shocked at how much more fun the original, by Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, is. Anyone who ever heard Led Zeppelin's "Girl I Love, She Got Long, Black Wavy Hair" needs to hear Sleepy John Estes' version of it from 1929 to hear power and passion the way it should be.
But the concept doesn't really hold up on this second disc; there were more "classic" recognizable songs on Walk Right In, and the majority of things here are more like "lost classics" that haven't gotten enough exposure. Track after track reveals songs you'll never stop humming, ever. Bo Carter's "Doubled Up in a Knot" is smutty fun blues that Mick and Keef would have ripped off in a heartbeat had they ever heard it. I had never before been exposed to Jelly Roll Morton's "I Hate a Man Like You," presented here with Lizzie Miles on vocals backed by Morton himself on whorehouse piano, and it hits hard: "When I met you / I thought you was right / You married me / And stayed out the first night / Do you think you treated your wifey right? / Lord, I hate a man like you!"
The real stars of this disc are the Memphis Jug Band, who get two different songs. "Stealin', Stealin' " is just about the hookiest song ever recorded, with sloppy vocal and see-saw harmonica by leader Will Shade. (Taj Mahal fanatics know this one quite well, by the way.) And their stomping take on "Cocaine Habit Blues" from 1930 (and written many years before that by Jennie Mae Clayton) almost makes you sad that the protagonist can't buy coke at the corner drugstore anymore.
These lost classics are just as solid and great as the ones that we recognize, but those ones kick much ass too. It's funny to hear Frank Stokes take on "Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do" decades before Lady Day or Sam Cooke or Hank Williams, Jr. ever tried it on for size, and it's absolutely hilarious to hear Louis and Lil Armstrong backing up Jimmie Rodgers on "Blue Yodel #9"—the tasteful liner notes mention that Rodgers "was from the 'I change chords when I feel like changing' school," but the Armstrongs are right there with him the whole time. And I've heard about Blind Willie McTell and Furry Lewis from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, but here they are for real, and they're so tough and timeless that I'm sorry I'd never done my research and heard them for real before. But this set's gone and done it for me.
I would have called this a 4.8 out of 5.0 because the disc doesn't really stick to its "concept," but that would be like complaining because the ocean isn't always blue, or because Alex Wek has short hair. No, this is a fiver if there ever was one. Dig it. 18-Sep-2002 7:35 PM