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Son House: The Original Library of Congress Sessions From Field Recordings 1941-1942

Ed Kopp By

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These Son House "field recordings" were made in 1941 and ‘42 by folklorist Alan Lomax, who toured the country with a crude 300-pound machine documenting all sorts of regional music.

In the 1930s, Son House served as the main inspiration to fellow Mississippians Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, arguably the two greatest innovators the blues has known. House hadn’t recorded in 11 years when Lomax him tracked down in Robinsonville, Mississippi. The Depression had forced the slide guitarist and vocalist to work various odd jobs to supplement the meager income he received from playing picnics and country balls. Lomax visited the Delta to preserve the music of House and other bluesmen on acetate.

In his travels, Lomax recorded thousands of bands, choirs, singers and common folk. He later wrote that his sessions with House spawned the most memorable blues he ever documented. In 1990, Lomax’s scratchy recordings of Son House were lovingly remixed by Biograph Records owner Arnold Caplin with help from the Library of Congress. The result is one of the most powerful country-blues CDs ever made.

What immediately strikes you here is the emotional resonance of Son House’s music. His mighty voice seems to emerge from the very core of his soul, and you get a strong inkling of what it must have been like to hear this man pour forth on a steamy Delta night in a rickety juke joint. House started out as a preacher, and throughout his life was torn between religion and whiskey-fueled carousing. The blues enabled House to reconcile his spiritual and secular inclinations. No bluesman has ever sung with more mystical force.

The first five tracks here – all from the 1941 session – are some of the most famous blues sides ever recorded. They feature House with his good friend Willie Brown on guitar, Joe Martin on fiddle and LeRoy Williams on harmonica. The format — raw Delta blues in a group setting — served as the inspiration for the Chicago blues bands of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. In the background you can even hear a couple of steam locomotives roar by the trackside grocery store where the session took place. The remaining 10 tracks are solo performances with House in excellent form on slide guitar and vocals.

Son House contributed as much to the evolution of blues music as any human being, and this Biograph CD is a classic overview of his work.

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