The Rough Guide To Blues Women
World Music Network
It’s a separate discussion whether you like the branding of such compilations but personally I’ve always felt very comfortable with The Rough Guide series, particularly its various artists compilations – great liner-notes and wise selections; a good way to compile the artists that made a dent in terms of the history of an instrument/genre/period but don’t have an embarrassment of riches to compile. These are the wise selections that can please both the neophytes and collectors – can turn people on to a sound or be a very good gap-filler in a music-nerd’s collection.
So it is with The Rough Guide to Blues Women which features the names you would expect – Ma Rainey, Ruth Willis, Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith – but also gives us those key recordings from artists that did not capture a lot on tape. Geeshie Wiley & Elvie Thomas delight here early on with Pick Poor Robin Clean, Kate McTell belts out God Don’t Like It accompanied by her husband, Blind Willie McTell, some sweet Charley Patton playing too on Birtha Lee’s moaning Mind Reader Blues.
And maybe – via YouTube, no doubt – you know of Lucille Bogan’s filthy Shave ‘Em Dry. It makes any of the bawdy Tom Waits/Beefheart tunes seem like Sunday morning church music. Great to have that song here – and though the lyric still shocks (and is funny – a response seems to be to laugh because, well, why not) the voice is a wonderful bellow too.
Memphis Minnie’s ‘Frisco Town is a highlight, not least because Minnie’s guitar skills were up there with any of the men you might hear in the background as accompanists on some of the other tracks (apart from the names already mentioned there’s Barbecue Bob and Blind Blake).
These performances have become, in some cases, the only window in a life that we have – as it is on Lottie Kimbrough’s Rolling Log Blues, or Mattie Delaney’s Down The Big Road Blues which apart from being a great performance is, along with Tallahatchie River Blues, the sum total of her recordings.
You’ll enjoy Louis Armstrong tootin’ his horn to accompany Bertha ‘Chippie’ Hill on the version of Trouble in Mind here, also Fats Waller’s guiding hands for Sara Martin’s rendition of T’aint Nobody’s Business If I Do.
There’s not a dud track here – across 25 selections. And of course it’s just a taster, the entrance of the goldmine. The real work starts after the easy consumption of this CD. You go out and find some more from these players and others. The 1920s in particular and then on into the 1930s was a time when the female singer was given the spotlight, in vaudeville and shows, blues clubs and from there to jazz records. I like the work done by The Rough Guide compilers. And this is one of their best.