various artists,
Blues in the Mississippi Night
(Rounder, 2003)

Back to the early days. Back to stories of the Deep South. Through the voices, conversation and instrumental meanderings of Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson and Memphis Slim, we hear the early blues speaking to us. All three were born in the Mississippi Delta area, according to the Lomax foreword, and they firmly back the tradition that blues were given birth in the South. Each man moved north during the recording era of blues and founded diverse careers in the music industry.

On Blues in the Mississippi Night, recorded first in March 1947, released in 1959 and again in 1990, the men talk about their music as a most natural extension of themselves, and by this time they were well established bluesmen, well into their careers at the ages of 54, 33 and 32, respectively.

According to these three musicians, blues were a release from worry and strife -- emotional release in an environment where the fittest might not even survive, let alone the weak. The men talk about how spirituals, like blues, were songs of consolation. And one interesting sample of a lining song is added. The pastor leads with the line of a song and the congregation sings it after him in their own key, their own interpretation for an eerie and strange musical sound. But it had a purpose in that those who couldn't read or write could learn new hymns this way.

Just as easily as they talk, or even more readily, they sing or strum to explain and demonstrate aspects of the blues. You hear the timbre of their voices, the lyrics and the hard cry of their instruments bringing home the fact that the blues were born in times of troubles. These were men who lived their blues and the CD is a testament to them and to the early days of blues as a survival art: a way of sharing pain and moving on.

It wouldn't hurt any modern blues fan to have a listen. The CD served to remind me that the deep-picking of modern blues that I so enjoy evolved from serious social under-cutting of fellow human beings and the road traveled is a long way off from country-style hurtin' songs. Blues exude a certain richness and depth of sound that touches us in ways no other music does, and the cuts and the information included here help bring a greater understanding of why that is.

Quoted from the recording: Big Bill says, "I want to get the thing plainly that the blues is something that's from the heart. ... It takes a man that have the blues to sing the blues."

And to add a quote from my generation, "Ain't nothing pretty 'bout the blues," writes Matt Minglewood, who obviously knows his blues history.

Take your time with this one; it's heavy, hard and it hurts. There are little pieces that you want to pick up in the palm of your hand and hold and stare at trying to understand, and if you grip them too hard they'll splinter like glass and the shards will go deep to make you bleed. Around those little pieces, and something that adds to the wonder of the CD, are gentle sounds of laughter and fun and a spirit of companionship that brings joy into the bigger picture and reminds us that (to paraphrase) the blues too will pass.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 17 October 2004

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