Paul Geremia,
Love My Stuff
(Red House, 2011)

Paul Geremia has been touring and recording on the folk and blues circuit, in good times and bad, for a long time. If you're unfamiliar with his music, Love My Stuff is the place to meet it. It surveys his career and repertoire over three decades as a solo acoustic guitarist performing downhome blues, ragtime and originals, the last of these sometimes salted with sharp social commentary. In that regard, unfortunately, his "The Things That Used to Matter," among the most pointed and memorable topical songs I've heard in my by now considerable listening experience, is not revisited here.

Instead, on Love Geremia chooses four self-penned pieces, mostly autobiographical, mostly documenting his own love life's highs and lows, including the horror story that is "Cocaine Princess." Otherwise, the songs -- 18 in all -- hail from traditional sources and from artists such as Lead Belly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Rev. Gary Davis, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Willie McTell, Ramblin' Thomas and Charlie Patton.

Though these are all deservedly revered songsters and bluesmen, only one -- Patton -- is associated with the Mississippi Delta style (which is what those whose knowledge is casual tend to presume all country blues is). The CD's title derives from a Patton song, the only one appearing on Love. If Patton's reputation is virtually synonymous with the notion of "deep blues," Geremia is too considered an artist to attempt, futilely and pointlessly, to evoke Patton's back-country growl, which gives the impression of musical expression out of a past more distant than a mere near century ago. You could pronounce Geremia a brilliant interpreter of Patton, and he is certainly that, but perhaps reinterpreter is the closer characterization. Basically, for Geremia, Patton (or whoever) is just where the music takes off. From there on, Geremia is at the controls, and the landscape beneath him is the America in which we live, happily and unhappily, today.

A significant element of his strength is that reinterpretative approach. Unlike some folk-bluesmen -- in many ways, sadly, a thankless career choice given the sometimes still tricky racial politics of the blues -- he does not communicate to the listener the uneasy sense that he or she should be listening to some African-American bluesman's record instead of some white guy's. In Geremia's case the two co-exist without toe-stepping; he does these songs as Paul Geremia, in whose (white) musician's skin he lives without apology. This fact would not matter, however, if Geremia were not so able and wise a performer, a master of 6- and 12-string guitar as well as the owner of a strong, whiskey-ish baritone that draws the listener inexorably into the lyrical narrative. It doesn't hurt, either, that Geremia's knowledge of American vernacular music verges on the encyclopedic. The man, in short, is not just passing through.

In common with other longtime folk veterans still emotionally engaged with the music they're doing, Geremia's recordings by now are effectively reviewer-proof, which means they maintain a consistent quality not to be naysayed or nitpicked. Nonetheless, there's something about hearing him do it live -- which of course is how he does it most of the time -- that makes Love My Stuff such lovable stuff.

music review by
Jerome Clark

3 December 2011

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