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Various: Hellhound on My Trail: Songs of Robert Johnson

C. Michael Bailey By

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This may be the best tribute disc I have ever heard.

I have mixed feelings about a tribute disc to a phantom. Robert Johnson's craft is as essential to world culture as Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, the Koran, and Citizen Kane. In my experience, tribute discs contain one or two performances that are over the top wonderful (such as Buddy Guy's "Red House" on the Hendrix Tribute and Hootie and the Blowfish on the Zep Tribute). Therefore, I had pretty low expectations of Hellhound on My Trail: Songs of Robert Johnson. After all, how could Robert "I'm Addicted to Love" Palmer sneak sally through the alley on the blues canon? To my glee, I discovered a tribute disc that should be owned along side The Complete Robert Johnson.

Why, might you ask? Because we are fortunate to have performing on this disc, perhaps the last of the practicing bluesmen that actually knew Robert Johnson, particularly Dave "Honeyboy" Edwards who was present the night Johnson was allegedly poisoned and Robert Jr. Lockwood, who learned at the foot of the phantom as Johnson kept house with his mother. With a groan as deep as the delta he hailed from, betraying his 80some odd years, Dave Edwards metaphorically returns to Friar's Point Mississippi with Johnson's " Traveling Riverside Blues". Edwards still plays a mean bottleneck guitar and his voice has as many rings as a California Redwood. He closes the song with the words, "That's pretty close to it". Indeed.

The fun does not stop there. Robert Jr. Lockwood turns in an intense "I'm A Steady Rollin' Man" with Carey Bell playing Rice Miller to Lockwood's Johnson. Two other old timers also show up. Pinetop Perkins, pounding his piano, tells the listener of his "Sweet Home Chicago" while Bob Margolin provides the slide guitar. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown performs "If You've Got a Good Friend" only as he can. Most of the performances on this disc are reverent and straight. That is with the exception of the aforementioned Robert Palmer. Palmer uses a tuba, dobro, and processed guitar. And his voice: Palmer had one of the finest vocal performances on the record, using Johnson's "Milkcow Calf's Blues" as his vehicle. If you already have The Complete Robert Johnson, buy this disc . If you don't already have The Complete Robert Johnson, get it and then buy Hellhound on My Trail. It's just like reading poetry—you just have to.


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