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Mike Bloomfield: If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em As You Please

Chris M. Slawecki By

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This compilation is a blues purists' dream, packaging If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em As You Please (1976), guitarist Bloomfield's personal tour through the history of acoustic and electric guitar blues, together with Bloomfield/Harris, his 1979 instrumental overview of acoustic country-gospel blues jointly conducted with guitarist Woody Harris.

Bloomfield was the American leader in the same first wave of guitarists in which Eric Clapton and Peter Green discovered their blues-rock voices in Europe. Best known for his work with Bob Dylan (on Highway 61 Revisited and in the electric band with whom Dylan notoriously debuted at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival) and various Paul Butterfield blues bands, Bloomfield proved adept with his guitar but less skilled with the pressures of "rock stardom, dying of a drug overdose in 1981.

Even Bloomfield's liner notes, personal annotations of each selection, sparkle with greatness! He notes, from If You Love, for example, that "'City Girl' is a direct tribute to T-Bone Walker, who, to me, is the guy who popularized the idea of modern electric blues guitar and vocal against the background of a horn section. These If You Love notes supplement his own spoken, recorded narratives to each piece, such as this intro to "WDIA : "WDIA is a shuffle in the key of B flat using a Stratocaster with a twin reverb amp. It's in the style of B.B. King from his Kent Records period, approximately 1961.

Bloomfield proves adept at so many different sounds and styles, such as the solo guitar rag(time) "Thrift Shop Rag and the Jimmie Rodgers-style dustbowl blues "Hey, Foreman. "City Girl sashays as cool and blue as an after-hours club hidden in a dark corner of the city, while "Death in My Family, dedicated by Bloomfield to Eddie "Guitar Slim Jones, swings like the soul-rock-R&B hybrid that typified Jones' best work for Specialty Records.

"WDIA pounds out a reeling and a-rocking blues from your basic guitar/piano hard rock quartet. "Mama Lion is screaming electric Windy City blues featuring composer and originator Nick Gravenites (co-founder of Electric Flag with Bloomfield) on second guitar—generating the heat, as Bloomfield notes, of Earl Hooker shot through with John Lee Hooker.

Almost more amazing than his guitar dexterity is the way Bloomfield shades his vocals to approximate his source material: almost comic yodelin' blues in "Hey, Foreman ; laconic and cool in "City Girl ; moaning from the "Death Cell Rounder Blues, a mournful, country piano-blues duet; and as sad and lonesome as Mississippi John Hurt in Lonnie Johnson's "Blue Ghost Blues.

Featuring classic spirituals, Bloomfield/Harris unfolds as softly and reverently and brilliantly as a sunny Easter Sunday morning, opening with "I'll Overcome ("We Shall Overcome ), contemplating "Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and bringing it home through "Peace in the Valley. Bloomfield's reverent yet toe-tapping approach to "Just a Closer Walk sounds unique (as his notes explain, "A million people have done this tune, but I first heard it done by Kid Ory in a Dixieland jazz style ), and few if any guitarists could make the slide guitar moan and cry like Bloomfield does in "Gonna Need Someone On My Bond.

Track Listing: If You Love These Blues; Hey Foreman; WDIA; Death Cell Rounder Blues; City Girl; Kansas City Blues; Mama Lion; Thrift Shop Rag; Death in My Family; East Colorado Blues; Blue Ghost Blues; The Train is Gone; The Altar Song; Ill Overcome; I Must See Jesus; Great Dreams From Heaven; Gonna Need Somebody On My Bond; I Am A Pilgrim; Just a Closer Walk With Thee; Have Thine Own Way; Farther Along; Peace in the Valley.

Personnel: Michael Bloomfield, acoustic and electric guitar, banjo, piano, organ, bass, vocals; Ron Stallings, tenor saxophone; Hart McNee, baritone saxophone; Ira Kamin, organ; Eric Kriss, piano; Nick Gravenitis, guitar, vocal; Roger Troy, Doug Kilmer, bass; Dave Neditch, Tom Donlinger, drums; Woody Harris, acoustic guitar.

Title: If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em As You Please | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Kicking Mule


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