Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Favorite roots albums : Blind Gary Davis - Harlem Street Singer

Blind Gary Davis - Death Don't Have No Mercy (buy) (1960)

Blind Gary Davis - Lo, I Be With You Always (buy) (1960)

Sorry folks for the late post, I have few free time these days due to the Top 200 AMF album poll I'm running. This is another of my favorite albums.

This beautiful LP was part of my father's collection when I discovered it. It features a great vocalist and guitar picker in 12 gospel-blues songs as he sang them in the streets of New York City. The album was recorded in a 3 hour session on August 24, 1960.

This is pure top notch acoustic blues and one of the very first masterpieces of the folk/blues revival of the sixties.

I'll discuss the man Gary Davis later but you can check out his bio here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Favorite roots albums : Georges Brassens Edition

Georges Brassens - Le Gorille (buy) (1953)

Georges Brassens - Le Bistrot (buy) (1960)

Sorry guys i haven't got much time these days due to my work with Acclaimed Music's album poll, in which you can still take part (more details here. )

While I'm knee-deep (and soon chest-deep) into lists of favorite albums, here's an artist who will have at least 3 or 4 albums in my top 200.

Brassens is the first thing I remember, musically speaking.
My grandfather used to play these 10-inch (25 cm) LPs, I was 3 or 4 years old and soon I knew some songs by heart and sang them in my grandparents' garden.

My father played these records too, singing along. I listened to them with my sisters and grew up with this music. That's probably why I love folk music today.

And Brassens still rules : he's folky, and sometimes jazzy à la Django (most of the time just a double bass and two accoustic guitars), he's the hell of a songwriter, he's an exquisite poet (much better than Brel to me, much more literate), he's fun, go to his biography on wiki or AMG if you don't know him.

The songs ? about God (the hilarious "Le Mécréant"), death and murder ("Le gorille"), love ("Je m'suis fait tout petit", two of his very best songs), and of course, booze ("Le Bistrot", about a bartender's wife).

"Le Gorille", one of his very first songs, was banned from airplay because of its lyrics. It even caused Brassens' mother, a devout Catholic to boycott his concerts.

You'll find English subtitles in this video to learn why. Brassens is old and sick in the video so the performance is not as good as in the record.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A to Z : The Allen Brothers

The Allen Brothers - Bow Wow Blues (buy) (1927)

The Allen Brothers - Jake Walk Blues (buy) (1930)

Ever since the beginnings of the country industry, singers and musicians were fascinated by the blues. Although the most famous of them was Jimmie Rodgers and his blue yodels, others like Darbie & Tarlton, Dick Justice recorded numerous blues songs, but the Allen Brothers' music was so rooted in the blues that Columbia catalogued their recordings as "race" performances, which caused them to leave the label.

Austin and Lee Allen were from a poor family of Chatanooga sawyers, and spent a part of their youth as itinerant musicians especially on miners camps in the moutains. There they probably met a lot of other songsters, black and white, and learnt a lot from them. The songs they recorded between 1927 and 1937 were mostly personal compositions (a rare fact at that time) inspired by blues standards and jug band numbers. They often wrote about current events : "Jake Walk Blues" is a commentary on the Jamaican ginger ("jake") food-poisoning episode that made headlines that year.

Although they were good singers and valuable banjo/guitar players, Lee's kazzo playing is the duo's trademark. As Bill C Malone says , "he took this child's toy of presumed limited range and converted it to a lead instrument of exceptional flexibility. On Allen Bros recordings the kazoo is used like a trumpet; the result is a sound not unlike that heard on Charlie Poole's string band recordings, a syncopated but structured swing."

Like a lot of musicians who recorded in the twenties, their onstage repertoire was wider than just the blues.

As a bonus, here is a good example of their uptempo, swinging songs.

The Allen Brothers - Ain't That Skippin' An' Flyin' (buy) (1928)

Check out their AMG bio

Here a post on Lonesome Lefty's Scratchy Attic

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Favorite roots albums : Doc & Merle Watson : Ballads From Deep Gap

Doc & Merle Watson - My Rough and Rowdy Ways (buy) (1967)

Doc & Merle Watson - The Lawson Family Murder (buy) (1967)

I'm a list maniac. There is no cure for that. So I spend a lot of time hanging out on the Acclaimed Music forum with my list maniac (and music nerd) friends.
I'm running a poll this month called "list you 200 favorite albums of all time" (all genres) and if you're a list maniac don't hesitate and participate !

So this month I will post about my favorite roots albums and the first of all (#8 in my all-time list which contains a lot of "non-roots" material).

I doscovered this forgotten gem by chance at the library while looking for some Doc Watson stuff. To this day, no folk-country album (I'm not counting compilations) has had such an effect on me.
The 12 songs encompass some of the best styles in traditional American music : old Appalachian ballads (a great rendition of Clarence Ashley's "The Cuckoo"), hillbilly music (a cover of Jimmie Rodgers' "Rough and Rowdy Ways"), bluegrass (Lester Flatt's "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms"), blues (a wonderful version of Mississippi John Hurt's "Stackolee") or murder ballads, with the "Lawson Family Murder", a terrible story sung in a gentle manner, which makes it even more stunning. The only other song on this subject that could pair it might be Suicide's "Frankie Teardrop", which tells the same story in a completely opposite manner.

And of course there is Doc and son's performance. Doc Watson is one of the best acoustic guitar players of the century, taking picking to unbelievable heights. Not only is he a technical virtuoso, but his playing is almost laid back and seems effortless. Everything is done at home, the sound is incredible, and the music is fast, fun and unpretentious.

I do hope I have convinced you to get that masterpiece. If you love the music I post here, you will love this album.

Track list :

1 Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms
2 My Rough and Rowdy Ways
3 The Wreck of the Old Number Nine
4 Gambler's Yodel
5 The Cuckoo
6 Stack-O-Lee
7 Willie Moore
8 Travelin' Man
9 The Tragic Romance
10 Texas Gales [instrumental]
11 The Lawson Family Murder
12 Alabama Bound