Miraculously still active after nearly a century of life Henry Townsend is a certified blues legend. A native of Mississippi born in 1909, he set up residence in St. Louis in his late teens and was soon ensconced in the thriving blues scene there. His sound is indicative of the region and often features sparse, utilitarian picking and a focus on melancholy vocalized verses. Short’s style is similarly shaped, but is noticeably different in the amount of vibrato he bleeds into his singing.
Considering the volatile relationship Townsend and Short shared the disc’s title seems to be something of a misnomer. Frequent feuds and violent altercations checkered their associations (one supposedly culminating with Townsend shooting Short in the genitals!) and there was evidently not the least bit of love lost between the two men. Townsend’s first several tunes are subtle variations on a unifying blues riff, the largely interchangeable lyrics revolving around the woes of being cursed with a mistreating woman. Others like “My Sweet Candy” revel in not so subtle sexual innuendo. A few suffer from significant sonic blemishes, but Townsend’s ringing guitar tone and stentorian strums along with his hollow gravelly voice always manage to beat the surface static into submission. Several later pieces feature him in dour duets with Roosevelt Sykes. At this early stage in his celebrated career Sykes touch on the ivories is barrelhouse born and frames Townsend’s voice and guitar with effective stride-tinged accompaniment. Short’s several tunes are coarser both in terms of diction and fretwork and brimming with a rugged bravado that routinely cuts to the chase. These early sides make for an interesting comparison to his later work with Big Joe Williams. Presumed to be one Short’s many aliases Joe Stone’s closing pair of songs suggests they are indeed one in the same.
As usual Catfish treats the priceless material culled from original shellac 78’s with the utmost care. Cleaning up the fidelity as much as possible without compromising the music and including copious historical notes their package surpasses the Austrian Document label’s reissue of the same music. Townsend is one of only a handful of surviving Pre-War bluesmen and this reissue of his early St. Louis sides serves as a fitting tribute to his continuing impact on the blues.
Catfish on the web: http://www.catfishrecords.co.uk/
Personnel: Henry Townsend: vocals & guitar; Roosevelt Sykes- piano; Robert Lee McCoy- guitar; Sonny Boy Williamson- harmonica; J.D. Short- vocals & guitar; Joe Stone- vocals & guitar.