Instant nostalgia for veteran blues fans: the opening track here, "Roberta," the first ever recording by Melvin "Lil' Son" Jackson, came out on a pioneering anthology of mostly pre-war blues some forty years back. Few blues records, new or otherwise, had then been available very far from the blues' native home and birthplace.
Almost exactly two years older than John Lee Hooker, Jackson seems to have been induced to do a Hooker cover on his second, 1949 session in Houston, and "Talkin' Boogie" is amazing. Where Hooker could play only Hooker, Jackson was a real guitarist. Here as elsewhere he could produce the occasional wonderful chord nobody with orthodox training would dream of.
Jackson sounded more like Lightnin' Hopkins than like Hooker, though not the same. Each of them continued the country blues current when they were boys in Texas. Weirdly, on the other side of the disc with "Talkin' Boogie" and "Milford Blues," Jackson might have been asked to try to sound just like Hopkins. The recording's plainly been doctored, decades before computing, to boost the lower resonances characteristic of Hopkins' voice and guitar.
Over these first 23 recordings before rock 'n' roll ended Jackson's studio career (the CD title is ironic), there are signs of efforts to enhance his real individuality. Numbers not entirely his own work, like the two apparent pastiches, drew out more variety within his personal resources. "Talkin' Boogie," though failed imitation Hooker, is a unique guitar tour-de-force. "Rockin' and Rollin'" is the chestnut "Rock Me, Baby" under another name, with a lovely individual guitar part. "Travelin' Alone" is a blues with unusual harmonies, composed, I think, by Memphis Minnie.
Different degrees of surprise continually pop up within the same sort of constant individual ground that will be known to listeners of Hooker and Hopkins, if not yet Jackson. He died in 1976. A final two solo titles from his first batch of recordings should appear on Volume 2, most of the tracks on that will have small band accompaniment. His last twelve commercially recorded titles, before 1954, when there ceased to be a market for his music, were solo again.
Other than on the added and overdone bass reverb title on the Hopkins imitation, which Modern Records apparently engineered fifty-odd years back (and that's interesting and fun in itself), the sound's impeccably good.
Track Listing: Roberta Blues; Freedom Train Blues; Ground Hog Blues; Bad Whiskey Bad Women; Gone With
The Wind (She's Gone); No Money, No Love; Talkin' Boogie; Milford Blues; Cairo Blues; Evil
Blues; Gambling Blues; Homeless Blues; Ticket Agent Blues; True Love Blues; Evening Blues;
Spending Money Blues; Tough Luck Blues; Peace Breaking People; Rockin' And Rollin'; Two
Timin' Woman; Rocky Road; Disgusted; Travelin' Alone.