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These recently recovered sides constitute an addition to the blues vernacular tantamount to the discovery of a hitherto unknown late Beethoven string quartet. Prior to the release of Studio Sessions: Rare and Unreleased, James’ entire output existed on a handful of long-playing albums, one from the early 1930s and the rest contemporaries with this recording from 1967. While it is a bit of an exaggeration to say the James is neglected, his output nevertheless is often obscured by that of Son House, Robert Johnson, and Mississippi John Hurt when compared to his sheer artistry and honor.
Nehemiah Curtis "Skip" James was born in Bentonia, Mississippi on June 21, 1904. He was the son of a backsliding Baptist minister who abandoned his family shortly after James’ birth. Skip James would grow up to be the major exponent of the Bentonia School of blues, characterized by open D-Minor guitar tunings and a high ghostly falsetto that would have frightened the Devil away from the crossroads. Studio Sessions: Rare and Unreleased includes sides recorded 1967 between Skip James Today (1965) and Devil’s Got My Woman (1968). His performing here is not up to the standards of these contemporaneous discs, particularly his guitar playing, but the recording does contain more of James’ distinctive piano music and within this rarified realm, his talent shines brightly. James' piano playing is an artistic mess that is absolutely perfect rural blues. this is blues piano that because of its uniqueness, cannot be compared to that of Roosevelt Sykes, Pinetop Perkins, or Otis Spann because that would be like comparing apples to oranges. James plays the piano like he plays the guitar extending some lines and shortening others however the mood suits him. this can be very disconcerting to those listener looking for appropriate resolution in the blues, but James' approach certainly best represents rural performance style.
This session finds James limited himself to traditional music and spirituals. A highlight among many is his post-modern piano performance of Hoagy Carmichael’s "Lazy Bones." The majority of rural blues artists from the 1920s and ‘30s were fluent in the popular vernacular. Here is one of the most perfect examples of cultural cross-pollination one could imagine: a monument, if only a minor one, to perhaps the finest talent expressed from the Mississippi Delta tradition. Strongly recommended.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.