174

Various: Texas Blues

Derek Taylor By

Sign in to view read count
Commonly regaled as a definitively American musical form, the blues are in fact a living amalgam of social, cultural and artistic antecedents both indigenous and otherwise. African-derived rhythms and folklore intersected with traditions extrapolated from European, Latin and Polynesian sources—with everything falling into the simmering melting pot that describes the music. Distinct styles were the product of both regional experimentation and the proliferation of commercial recordings. As a cross-pollinating musical ecosystem in the early part of the 20th century, the state of Texas was one of the most scattered and distinctive; the blues forms that arose within its arbitrary boundaries were equally so.

This Catfish compilation delivers a comprehensive distillation of Pre-War Texas styles. Often pairing the selections from each artist into convenient double-shots, the discs offer the listener a variegated tour from the bouncing rustic drive of Henry Thomas' guitar-and-quills verses to the urban barrelhousin' of barroom matrons like Hattie Burleson. Well-known staples such as the ubiquitous Blind Lemon Jefferson stand aside long forgotten troubadours like "Funny Paper" Smith (who incidentally traffics in subject matter that is hardly humorous) and Black Boy Shine. The folks at Catfish make a point of covering all the bases and it is this level of all-inclusiveness that makes Texas Blues so effective in countering the fickle druthers of time.

The program also touches upon the rich Texas string and jug band traditions with rousing entries from outfits like Frenchies String Band and the Dallas Jamboree Jug Band. Both groups use chugging mandolin and booming brass bass to spread rhythmic glue around rag and Tin Pan Alley-derived themes. Jake Jones and The Gold Front Boys are of similar origins, balancing mournful vocals with wailing clarinet counterpoint.

The separate works of Whistlin' Alex Moore and Billiken Johnson are fascinating, the latter of whom skillfully and often uncannily mixes vocal effects that approximate the sounds of train engines and steam boat whistles with double-fisted piano rolls. Topically, the usual suspects of liquor, women and the law are flanked by the downright bizarre, as with Ramblin' Thomas' masticatory musings on "Back Gnawing Blues." Sound quality varies widely given the diversity of source materials, but the music is always gratifying, even when significant and tenacious surface noise is present. The top-flight graphic design contains some valuable period photos accompanied by the detailed liner notes of resident Catfish blues scholar, Keith Briggs. Texas' geographic expanse is a perfectly suited allegory to the creative width of its musical constituents and this wide-ranging compilation offers an affordable and handpicked entry point into the state's rich legacy of the blues.


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read A Night Walking Through Mirrors CD/LP/Track Review A Night Walking Through Mirrors
by Barry Witherden
Published: September 21, 2017
Read Jondo CD/LP/Track Review Jondo
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 21, 2017
Read Jazz Flute Traditions CD/LP/Track Review Jazz Flute Traditions
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 21, 2017
Read Nerve Dance CD/LP/Track Review Nerve Dance
by John Sharpe
Published: September 21, 2017
Read Déjà Vu CD/LP/Track Review Déjà Vu
by Troy Dostert
Published: September 20, 2017
Read Woody Guthrie - The Tribute Concerts CD/LP/Track Review Woody Guthrie - The Tribute Concerts
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 20, 2017
Read "Coldest Second Yesterday" CD/LP/Track Review Coldest Second Yesterday
by John Sharpe
Published: February 25, 2017
Read "Alchemist" CD/LP/Track Review Alchemist
by Roger Farbey
Published: February 1, 2017
Read "Afro-Caribbean Mixtape" CD/LP/Track Review Afro-Caribbean Mixtape
by Mark F. Turner
Published: June 27, 2017
Read "Ugly Beautiful" CD/LP/Track Review Ugly Beautiful
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: March 6, 2017
Read "Ultimate Hits" CD/LP/Track Review Ultimate Hits
by Doug Collette
Published: September 17, 2017
Read "Happy All the Time" CD/LP/Track Review Happy All the Time
by Jack Bowers
Published: November 12, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.