When it came to playing the blues Lowell Fulson possessed an uncanny versatility born out of necessity. He could reference the unadorned acoustic styles of his youth, or just as easily switch pitches and lay down a high-energy urban jump blues. He’s flexibility was due in part to financial reasons- a greater number of styles under one’s belt meant a greater number of possible gigs. But more accurately it was simply the result of dedicated practice and commitment to his craft.
The recordings on this Catfish compilation come prior to Fulson’s famous partnership with the Chess label and are among his earliest. Waxed while he was eking out an existence on the West Coast these sides are mainly swing and jump blues in the vein of T-Bone Walker. But where they differ strikingly from this obvious source of influence is in the prickly bite of Fulson’s guitar. His stinging chords hack away any kind of maudlin sentimentality and infuse the music with a welcome raw edge. His various combinations range from duo to ‘orchestra’ (septet) size, but it’s on the former where his guitar is given most latitude to scratch and claw at the simple arrangements. Moments like the pugnacious preface to “My Baby” reference just how well his strings keep things honest and out of the range of teary-eyed romanticism. The task is more difficult on the fleshed out orchestra tunes where a light swing element threatens to crop up occasionally and Fulson’s once ornery guitar loses a little steam. But more often than not he rises above the limitations of his material and largely succeeds in subsuming the more polished impulses. Disc highlights include highlights are a trio of tracks with Fulson in the company of his brother Martin on second guitar. The pair turns their amps up to the verge of heavy distortion and smolder through a haunting mini-set of down home numbers.
Fulson may have cut a litany of sides for a variety of labels during his career, but these late 40s gem are among his most lasting and representative. Gathered together in one convenient place they afford an important aperture into the man’s music previously unavailable. Catfish should be commended.
Personnel: Lowell Fulson- electric guitar, vocal; Rufus J. Russell- piano; Arthur Jackson- bass; Asal