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Josh White: Josh At Midnight

James Nadal By

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Josh White: Josh At Midnight
The pioneering music of singer/guitarist Josh White is a reflection of American history throughout the 20th century; his songs depicting racial, social, and political situations during his turbulent lifetime. With a career spanning five decades, White hit the road at age eight as a guide for blind blues musicians. In 1928, age fourteen, he signed with Paramount Records, by the 1930's he was a major blues star, and prominent developer of the Piedmont guitar style. Evolving into an outspoken critic of racial inequalities throughout the 1940's, White also headlined at the Café Society in New York City, had a lucrative contract with Columbia Records and appeared on Broadway and Hollywood films. The early 1950's saw him exiled to Europe, after being targeted by the McCarthy debacles for dubious reasons, but enjoyed a triumphant return, becoming a principal voice in the folk revival, and civil rights movements, of the 1960's.

Josh At Midnight was recorded in late 1955, in New York City, under hush conditions, as White was politically blacklisted and could not record for major labels. Elektra founder Jac Holzman was a staunch White admirer, and had the courage and foresight to take this artistic risk for his then fledging label. Using a single Telefunken U-47 microphone strategically placed in a former church, White laid down the dozen tracks over two night sessions. The vocals and guitar have impeccable resonance, and the high spirits in the room are evident. Released in 1956, the record became one of Elektra's biggest sellers, and revived White's recording career. Ramseur Records has reissued the record on 180 gram vinyl, using the original masters, supervised by Holzman and engineering authority Bruce Botnick.

To accompany White, bassist Al Hall was brought in to fill in the bottom, and baritone Sam Gary adds a profound depth to the vocals. The songs cover the vast breadth of White's repertoire, from the blues "St. James Infirmary," "Jelly, Jelly" and "Number Twelve Train," to the high flying spirituals "Raise A Rukus," and "Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho." First recorded in 1944, "One Meat Ball," was arguably White's biggest hit, and he reprises it here with Gary doing an echoing chorus. There is an underlying jazz syncopation to "Don't Lie Buddy," and though there are spoken parts, it has a definite swing to it.

Throughout his career White had the uncanny ability to meander between the sacred and secular with ease. "Takin' Names," shows this side of his versatile talent, singing with a conviction of a man who has seen the dark side of humanity; recalling how his father was dragged behind a car by white men when he was a child. Instead of life making him bitter and resentful, it transformed him into Josh White, a legendary performer and lifelong activist who utilized his music to get his message across.

Josh At Midnight can best be summed up by the man who was there, Jac Holzman: "Sixty Years later, it dazzles with the radiance of a great artist, thoughtfully recorded, whose contribution is unchallenged, and firmly set in the bedrock of American vernacular music."

Track Listing

St. James Infirmary; Raise A Rukus; Scandalize My Name; Jesus Gonna Make My Dyin’ Bed; Timber (Jerry The Mule); Jelly, Jelly; One Meat Ball; Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho; Don’t Lie Buddy; Number Twelve Train; Peter; Takin’ Names.

Personnel

Josh White: vocals, guitar; Sam Gary: vocals; Al Hall: bass.

Album information

Title: Josh At Midnight | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Ramseur Records

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