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BLUES & GOSPEL
Johnny Shines -> Clara Smith

JOHNNY SHINES
CORKY SIEGEL
THE SIEGEL SCHWALL BAND
THE SILVER QUARTETTE OF NORFOLK
TERRANCE SIMIEN
LITTLE MACK SIMMONS
RAY SKJELBRED
BESSIE SMITH
BYTHER SMITH
CLARA SMITH

  
JOHNNY SHINES Testament 5002 Masters Of Modern Blues ● CD $11.98
10 tracks, 34 min., recommended
Straight reissue of Testament 5002 - a rare full band Chicago session featuring this great "rediscovered" Delta bluesman. The first number Rollin' And Tumblin' starts a little tentatively, but midway through turns into a swirling blues torrent, powered by Fred Below's remarkable drumming. From there on out Shines and Co. (that's Big Walter Horton on harp, pianist Otis Spann, bassist Lee Jackson, and Below) can do no wrong. A look at the song titles brings Robert Johnson and Muddy to mind, but Johnny takes the standards Sweet Home Chicago/ Walkin' Blues/ Two Trains Runnin' and makes them completely his own. His vocals are truly spine-chilling throughout, tinged with a little studio echo for maximum potency, whether on the spooky Mr. Tom Green's Farm or the full-throttle rocker What Kind Of Little Girl Are You?. And his Delta-bred electric slide guitar blends easily with the sinuous work of this marvelous backing band, inviting very positive comparison to the magic of Muddy's peak performances. Get it! (MB)

 
JOHNNY SHINES Wolf 120.914 1915-1992 ● CD $15.98
 

 
JOHNNY SHINES & SNOOKY PRYOR Blind Pig 74391 Back To The Country ● CD $16.98
I am not too thrilled with this release. I have a tremendous admiration for the music of Johnny Shines and met him and saw him perform a number of times in the 60s and 70s and had a hand in producing an album by him. It was always a thrill to hear his powerful booming voice and chilling slide guitar. Although Johnny traveled with and was influenced by the great Robert Johnson he was too talented and proud to be a Johnson copyist though few artists could be as convincing in their interpretation of a Johnson song. The last decade has not dealt kindly with Johnny - a stroke some years ago diminished his playing abilities and further ill health and advancing years have rendered him incapable of playing at all and reduced that incredible voice to a shadow of its former self. This recording, unfortunately, presents this considerably diminished Johnny Shines and, although I am sure it was made with the best of intentions does not do Johnny a service. If you want to hear what he could do you should check on the recordings on Flyright, Hightone, Testament & Vanguard. (FS)

 
CORKY SIEGEL Alligator 4824 Chamber Blues ● CD $13.98

 
THE SIEGEL SCHWALL BAND Alligator 4760 The Siegel Schwall Reunion Concert ● CD $13.98

 
THE SILVER QUARTETTE OF NORFOLK Document DOCD 5352 Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order, 1928-31 ● CD $15.98
24 tracks, 77 min., essential
Not surprisingly, the increase of blacks moving to metropolitan Norfolk, Virginia, in the 1920s coincided with the development of black gospel quartets in that city. The Silver Leaf Quartette Of Norfolk was one of the first and finest to recorded--Thurmon Ruth of the Selah Jubilee Singers cites Sleep On, Mother as the first quartet record he heard. And though they recorded (for OKeh) for only 4 years, they performed regularly throughout the 1950s, hanging up their jubilee slippers permanently only in 1979, when bass singer Luther Daniels passed away. Exceptionally fine a cappella quartet music--and the recordings themselves sound in remarkably good condition. (JC)

 
LITTLE MACK SIMMONS Electro-Fi 3355 Little Mack Is Back ● CD $15.98

 
LITTLE MACK SIMMONS Electro-Fi 3356 Somewhere Down The Line ● CD $15.98

 
LITTLE MACK SIMMONS Electro-Fi 3360 The P.M. /Simmons Collection ● CD $15.98
18 tracks, 61 mins, recommended
Fine collection of sides featuring Chicago singer/ harmonica player's Mack Simmons' recordings cut for his P.M. & Simmons labels between 1971 and 1982. Accompanied by a strong band including sidemen like Lonnie Brooks, William "Dead Eye" Norris, Detroit Junior, Robert Covington and others he performs a few originals along with a bunch of good covers of songs originally recorded by Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Junior Parker and others. Mack also accompanies the excellent Arlean Brown on three numbers including the then (1977) topical I'm A Streaker Baby and Impeach Me. There is also one side by the always superb Fenton Robinson - Cryin' The Blues. (FS)

 
LITTLE MAC SIMMONS Electro-Fi 3368 The Best Of Little Mac Simmons ● CD $14.98
Collection of sides drawn from the various Electro-Fi album by Chicago singer/ harmonica Simmons who died in October, 2000. Includes two previously unissued tracks.

  
RAY SKJELBRED Arcola 1004 Plays Blues & Boogie Woogie ● CD $14.98
21 tracks, 76 minutes, very good
Perhaps known primarily as a jazz pianist, Ray Skjelbred sits down and hands in a solid, all-instrumental set showing his love for piano blues and boogie. From the slow and delicate Comiskey Blues, dedicated to Jimmy Yancey, through Big Maceo's County Jail, a stellar example of his powerful left hand, or Leroy Carr's Midnight Hour Blues, a wonderful mid-tempo piece, the heart and feeling are evident. Skjelbred's originals, seven of the twenty-one cuts, fit seamlessly with the more traditional offerings. While hardly a household name, his piano work manages the driving bass lines, plus the grit and grind necessary. Superb sound throughout. (CR)

 
BESSIE SMITH Columbia 44441 The Collection ● CD $11.98
16 track compilation featuring some of Bessie's most famous sides like Empty Bed Blues (Parts 1 & 2)/ Downhearted Blues/ T'Aint Nobody's Bizness If I Do and others.
BESSIE SMITH: Black Mountain Blues/ Do Your Duty/ Downhearted Blues/ Empty Bed Blues (parts 1 and 2)/ Gimme A Pigfoot/ I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle/ Mean Old Bedbug Blues/ Muddy Water (A Mississippi Moan)/ My Sweetie Went Away (She Didn't Say When Or Why)/ Nobody Knows When You're Down And Out/ Reckless Blues/ St. Louis Blues/ Taint Nobody's Bizness If I Do/ Weeping Willow Blues/ You've Been A Good Ole Wagon/ Young Woman's Blues

 
BESSIE SMITH Columbia 64922 The Essential Bessie Smith ● CD $24.98
Two CD compilation featuring 36 classic performances by Bessie including Aggravatin' Papa/ T'aint Nobody's Bizness If I Do/ Bo Weavil Blues/ Alexander's Ragtime Band and more though, curiously, it omits a few of her most renowned performances including Empty Bed Blues and Downhearted Blues. Informative notes by Bessi'es biographer Chris Albertson.
BESSIE SMITH: After You've Gone/ Aggravatin' Papa/ Alexander's Ragtime Band/ At The Christmas Ball/ Baby Won't You Please Come Home/ Backwater Blues/ Black Mountain Blues/ Boweavil Blues/ Cake Walkin' Babies From Home/ Careless Love Blues/ Do Your Duty/ Down In The Dumps/ Dyin' By The Hour/ Dying Gambler's Blues/ Gimme A Pigfoot (And A Bottle Of Beer)/ Good Man Is Hard To Find, A/ Graveyard Dream Blues/ I Ain't Goin' To Play Second Fiddle/ Jail-House Blues/ Jazzbo Brown From Memphis Town/ Kitchen Man/ Me And My Gin/ Moan, You Moaners/ Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl/ Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out/ On Revival Day (A Rhythmic Spiritual)/ Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair/ Shipwreck Blues/ St. Louis Blues/ Taint Nobody's Bizness If I Do/ Take Me For A Buggy Ride/ There'll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight/ Ticket Agent, Ease Your Window Down/ Trombone Cholly/ Weeping Willow Blues/ You've Been A Good Ole Wagon

 

BESSIE SMITH ON FROG

For nearly fifty years, Bessie Smith's power and majesty have been compromised by abysmal-sounding LP and CD reissues. Columbia's four "Bessie Smith Story" LPs from the early '50s were soaked in reverb, while its comprehensive two-LP sets from the '70s were dulled by analog notch filtering that thinned the sound of the superbly recorded 78s. When Columbia/Legacy remastered the Smith catalog for compact disc release in the early '90s, engineers applied excessive NoNoise compression to those lifeless twenty-year-old analog LP masters. As a result, Smith's accompanists sound like pioneers in the use of wah-wah pedals. Frog Records recently commissioned British sound restoration wizard John R.T. Davies to make new digital transfers of Smith's original recordings. Davies' efforts essentially stripped two layers of acoustic gunk from Columbia's current CD releases, and the results are amazing. Besides restoring the singer's dynamic artistry, they bring out the natural ambience of Columbia's New York studio. As a bonus, Frog added rare alternate takes missing from Columbia/Legacy's five The Complete Recordings boxes. John Capes provides a thumbnail bio on each set, along with critical though not particularly insightful analysis. The first two volumes of Frog's eight-disc series are now available, and the third should be out by the time this newsletter is mailed. Label owner David French promises to release the remaining five as his cash flow permits - another good reason to pick up these initial volumes now. If you already own Columbia's Bessie Smith reissues, hang to them for the photos and Chris Albertson's notes. But you'd be wise to replace the original discs with the Frog issues as they come available. (DS)
 
BESSIE SMITH Frog DGF 40 The Complete Recordings - Volume 1 ● CD $18.98
23 tracks, 73 minutes, essential
Bessie Smith had been a successful stage performer for more than a decade when Harlem music impresario Clarence Williams brought her to Columbia Records in February 1923. Producer Frank Walker was so convinced of her potential that he cut six sessions with Smith before Columbia released its first coupling in June. Though her powerful singing style was essentially set, Smith's initial sides capture a youthful vitality that many blues collectors particularly treasure. This volume contains Smith's first nineteen surviving recordings, starting with her debut disc, Down Hearted Blues and Gulf Coast Blues, and continuing through her September 24, 1923 session. While the acoustic recording process tends to muffle the accompanying pianists - usually Williams or Fletcher Henderson - Smith's dynamic vocals reproduce quite clearly. This set includes previously unissued alternate takes of Lady Luck Blues/ Yodling Blues (sic)/ Midnight Blues and St. Louis Gal, all transferred from rare test pressings. (DS)

 
BESSIE SMITH Frog DGF 41 The Complete Recordings - Volume 2 ● CD $18.98
22 tracks, 70 minutes, essential
This release contains twenty-one surviving songs from Smith's acoustically recorded sessions between September 26, 1923, and April 9, 1924, plus an unissued alternate take of Frosty Mornin' Blues. At this point Frank Walker begins recording Smith with additional musicians. Fletcher Henderson's clarinetist Don Redman appears on four songs; prolific session guitarist Harry Reser is on two. The little-known fiddler Robby Robbins contributes an unusual down-home flavor to five tracks. Sorrowful Blues couples Robbins with guitarist John Griffin - one of Smith's rare forays into country blues territory. This collection also includes Smith's first duets with her Columbia labelmate Clara Smith, Far Away Blues and I'm Going Back to My Used to Be. (DS)

 
BESSIE SMITH Frog DGF 42 The Complete Recordings - Volume 3 ● CD $18.98
22 tracks, 70 minutes, essential
This collection reissues the rest of Smith's acoustic recordings - including the immortal January 14, 1925, St. Louis Blues session with Louis Armstrong - plus her first electrically recorded sides with a small group culled from Fletcher Henderson's band. By now Smith started recording with her usual stage pianist, Fred Longshaw, as well as such Hendersonians as Don Redman, cornetist Joe Smith, clarinetist Buster Bailey and most notably trombonist Charlie Green. This material reflects Bessie Smith at the peak of her powers as well as the growing confidence of Henderson's musicians. Nearly all the recordings on this volume are outstanding: Work House Blues/ House Rent Blues/ Salt Water Blues/ Rainy Weather Blues/ Weeping Willow Blues/ The Bye Bye Blues/ Sinful Blues, among others. The five sides with Armstrong remain indelible benchmarks of blues and jazz; if anything, the curious decision to move pianist Fred Longshaw to a reed organ for St. Louis Blues and Reckless Blues gave those songs an appealing tonal color. The electrically recorded May 1925 sessions also yielded two more Smith classics: Cake Walkin' Babies from Home (released after Smith's 1937 death) and The Yellow Dog Blues, which appears here in two takes, both originally issued. (DS)

   
BESSIE SMITH Frog DGF 43 The Complete Recordings - Volume 4 ● CD $18.98
23 tracks, 73 minutes, essential
With this release, Frog continues its acclaimed, eight-volume restoration of Bessie Smith's Columbia sides. This collection starts with the great blues diva's May 14, 1925, date - one of Columbia's earliest sessions using the new electrical recording process. Unfazed by the microphone's sensitivity, Smith sang with the power and emotion she used on her acoustic recordings and the results were impressive. More than half of this disc features musicians from Fletcher Henderson's orchestra, usually with the leader on piano and Charlie Green on trombone. Young cornetist Louis Armstrong, soon to return to Chicago, shines on six May 1925 tracks, including the great J.C. Holmes Blues/ I Ain't Goin' to Play Second Fiddle and multiple takes of Nashville Women's Blues and Careless Love Blues. An August 1925 date with Bob Fuller's trio yielded two more classics, Nobody's Blues But Mine and I Ain't Got Nobody. Other musicians include Smith's frequent pianists Fred Longshaw and Clarence Williams, and Hendersonians Buster Bailey, Don Redman and Armstrong's capable replacement, Joe Smith. Columbia's other reigning blues diva, Clara Smith, joins Bessie for a duet, My Man Blues. For many longtime Bessie Smith fans, this volume's real treasure is a previously unreleased December 1925 master of Squeeze Me, featuring Longshaw and cornetist Shelton Hemphill. Another version of that Fats Waller-Andy Razaf-Clarence Williams standard, recorded three months later with Williams at the keyboard, concludes the set. As with the previous Frog releases, British sound restoration specialist John R.T. Davies supervised new digital transfers from test pressings and the best available laminated 78s. By maintaining the integrity and natural ambience of the original recordings, Davies' efforts stand in sharp contrast to the overprocessed sound that makes Columbia's own Smith reissues difficult to listen to. If you truly love this music, don't let these releases pass you by. (DS)

 
BYTHER SMITH Delmark 691 Missisippi Kid ● CD $15.98
13 tracks, 60 mins, highly recommended Chicago singer/ guitarist Byther Smith is a very exciting performer - a powerful and emotional singer and a dynamic guitarist whose instrumental work perfectly complements his vocals and at times actually echoes the vocal line. He is also a fine songwriter and all the songs here are his own compositions, often drawing on his own life and experiences. Sometimes the have an almost surrealistic element as when he accuses his girl friend of having and affair with B.B.King or on another he threatens "Corrine, I'm sending your soul straight to hell". He is also a master of minor key blues which I find hard to resist. On this new album he is accompanied by a solid band with occasional added horns. (FS)

 
BYTHER SMITH Delmark 708 All Night Long ● CD $15.98
New album from tough Chicago singer/ guitarist.

 
CLARA SMITH Document DOCD 5364 Vol. 1 : 1923-1924 ● CD $15.98
The first of six CDs reissuing the entire recorded output of this popular 20s and early 30s singer. This volume features 22 sides recorded between June, 1923 and January, 1924 and are among her least interesting. Although she was a powerful and expressive singer and some of the songs are good, most of the recordings here feature the ponderous and lifeless piano playing of Fletcher Henderson. A couple of the tracks are of interest as they are duets with the great Bessie Smith but these are also rather draggy. Things pick up with her January, 1924 sessions where she is accompanied by a small jazz group.  (FS).

 
CLARA SMITH Document DOCD 5365 Vol. 2 : 1924 ● CD $15.98

 
CLARA SMITH Document DOCD 5366 Vol. 3 : 1925 ● CD $15.98

 
CLARA SMITH Document DOCD 5367 Vol. 4 : 1926-1927 ● CD $15.98

 
CLARA SMITH Document DOCD 5368 Vol. 5 : 1927-1929 ● CD $15.98

 
CLARA SMITH Document DOCD 5369 Vol. 6 : 1930-1932 ● CD $15.98


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