The title of this generous collection doesn’t mince words about the principal vice of its subject. Carr was one of the most famous and self-debasing artists in the history of the blues. So much so that his battles with the bottle are nearly as legendary as his talent. Forming one of the first high profile partnerships in the Blues Carr and his longtime collaborator Scrapper Blackwell took their music to the top of the ‘race music’ charts. It was a rocky ride however. Inflating egos and Carr’s aforementioned affliction nearly spelled the end at numerous points during the pair’s career. But before everything finally fell apart in a morass alcohol and sour grapes they managed to build an impressive body of work, much of the best of which is contained on these two discs.
Their musical template was a relatively simple one- catchy blues based figures advanced by Carr’s keys and buoyed by Blackwell’s nimble chordal accompaniment. Many of the songs followed this same replicated structure only deviating in terms of lyrical imagery and vocal delivery. Carr’s voice was a perfect match for the blues, high-pitched and haunted with a fatalistic resolve that mirrored the sorrowful content of the songs. Meanwhile Blackwell’s strumming worked mesmerically at caulking all the rhythmic nooks and crannies. Together the two blend in a tightly crafted tandem that still retained a rough and tumble coarseness.
This remarkably thorough set moves through the duo’s first session to its ill-fated last, where Blackwell evidently became so incensed that he had to leave the studio after only four numbers. Listened to in one sitting the music becomes unavoidably redundant, but taken in easily managed parcels the whole package reveals all of the reasons behind the duo’s rampant popularity. In addition, the appearance of Josh White on second guitar for two tunes also makes for a refreshing change of pace. On the final session Carr’s booze-induced difficulties are readily apparent in his playing and made even more audible by Blackwell’s absence on the concluding four tracks. He sticks to simple rolls rather than more involved patterns, but hearing him alone only hints at what might have been had he been able to abolish his demons and continue to record.
Catfish on the web: http://www.catfishrecords.co.uk/
Personnel: Leroy Carr- piano & vocals; Scrapper Blackwell- guitar & vocals; Josh White- guitar. Recorded: 1928-1935.