30 April 2009

Musical treasure

The folks at Reelin' In the Years have done it again. They've added a fourth volume to the American Folk Blues Festival collection. I own the first three DVDs, which are compilations of 1960s German television performances by the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner--the pantheon of blues greats that created modern American music. The new collection is taken from the same era (1963-1966) but set in the UK. The highlights are a spectacular "What'd I Say" from Junior Wells, and a rocking Sister Rosetta Tharpe, singing, of all places, in an empty train station. My only complaint is that the disc is too short. These digital records of these remarkable artists are surely a musical treasure. My first reaction is an almost reverential awe at their sophistication and style. Then the catchy beats take over and the toes start tapping and the fun begins. These guys were entertainers, not museum pieces, and you want to clap your hands, dance and shout when they perform. All their moves and even their songs were copied by the rock-n-rollers, and their music laid the foundation for just about all the pop music we hear today. My personal favorite, Sonny Boy Williamson (i.e. Aleck "Rice" Milller), contributes three cuts. He opens the whole thing with "Keep it to Yourself," coming on stage with his briefcase, a schtick Dan Aykroyd borrowed for his Elwood Blues character, and he is later seen in his famous two-tone suit. The man plays his harmonica with his nose at one point! What a privilege to see this great singer, showman, musician and songwriter while he was still vibrant and full of life. He died in 1965.

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