The Rough Guide To Gospel Blues
World Music Network
These sorts of compilations are dime a dozen, in terms of where you find them, but really what it’s about – almost always – is how you find them, and The Rough Guide to Gospel Blues is a pretty terrific long-play single-disc workout. Giving you the names you should know (Reverend Gary Davis) alongside ones you already do (Blind Willie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James) and names you might not have heard before but in this context they become instant new favourites (Blind Mamie Forehand, Lil McClintock).
From Barbecue Bob’s When The Saints Go Marching In and Charley Patton’s Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker through to the lesser known gems such as Sam Collins singing Lead Me All The Way and Julius Daniels’ Slippin’ And Slidin’ Up The Golden Street this is about the blues, primarily the acoustic guitar and vocal style, combining with the deeply religious sermon-style delivery.
Rev. Gary Davis’ I Am The Light opens this compilation, giving us the theme – as well as his wonderful guitar playing and from there it’s a tour of the musical influence of the church via I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole (with Blind Willie Johnson in full-throated howl) and the more hang-dog delivery of Bukka White on The Promise True and Grand.
Every track is its own highlight – but Your Enemy Cannot Harm You by the Rev. Edward W. Clayborn was one of the absolute standouts for me, with its deft slide guitar and Blind Boy Fuller’s Twelve Gates To The City features some great field-hollerin’ support-harmonica.
The make-or-break aspect of these sorts of compilations is the information that is provided alongside, World Music Network provides supportive liner notes that seek to educate and inform without ever coming across as superfluous or condescending.
If you’ve heard this all before and have these tunes already then you don’t need it (of course). But if you’re interested in collecting up a few handfuls of key moments from within certain sub-genres than the wider Rough Guide series is always worth looking at and listening to. And certainly this volume gets the tick from me. Plenty here to fall in love with, whisking you away to new (old) worlds.