Neo-Digital Blues


Thanks to Harry Smith, whose Benzedrine compulsion begat the Anthology of American Folk Music (released with dubious legitimacy on Folkways in 1952): No recorded music disappears, everything is a potential reclamation project. The collectorama underground was codified in the ‘70s for post-Nuggets garage rock (the Pebbles collections and their ilk) and country blues (Really! The Country Blues remains hard to beat). The point being that analog dubbing of well-worn vinyl was once the apotheosis of musical reincarnation, and precious few released sides are beyond discovery in ever-improving fidelity.

Flash forward to now, and you can get whatever you digitally want, free or for the proper coin (your moral call), whatever and whenever you want. There are only a few creases in this all-inclusive universe (somebody get on the original King Sunny Ade albums and whoever leaked the halted digital version of Time Fades Away, thankuverymuch).

But still, there are those rare recordings that remain fixed in the analog universe, or that appeared so evanescently in digital format that it’s almost insulting. (I’ve seen CD copies of Quine/Maher’s Basic selling for over $1200.) So let’s let a couple more of these birds fly free.

Super Black Blues Volume 1 (Bluestime 1969)  This is a blues “supergroup” session, but one created accidentally when Bob Thiele was recording albums by T-Bone Walker, Joe Turner, and Otis Spann for Bluestime Records in the late 60s and the respective artists kept showing up for each others’ sessions. No Stephen Stills, no Al Kooper, no Michael Bloomfield. On those grounds alone, seemed like something worth capturing. And it should— four loose jams that indicate what the masters would sound like when they were just hanging out together. No hurries here—relaxed is probably the wrong word, maybe content in the idea that a climax will eventually be reached: Kama Sutra blues? Joe Turner got lost after his classic period in the 50’s, but this and his Count Basie collaboration testify to an indomitable spirit retained. T-Bone Walker’s guitar kills quietly, and Otis Spann is the saint of blues piano. Let’s get to some Bluestime reissues can we? And does this year’s luscious looking Dues Paid: The Bluestime Story suggest as much? Right here, fellas.

Smokey Wood: The Houston Hipster (Rambler 1982) I’m not sure what else was released on the Rambler label, but this resurrection, virtually the only evidence that Smokey Wood existed, is musical anthropology with a great big kick in the loins. Maybe this is Western Swing, but it’s really Texas hillbillies doing their best to present Dixieland, Fats Waller, and Jimmy Rogers in a small-band format. Compared with that scion of Western Swing, Bob Wills, this is punk. And punk it should be—“Smokey” I am sure refers to Wood’s marijuana consumption, which could be measured in the pounds. Does that impact the wide-open musical template, the laconic tendency to jam for a while before finally getting on with the verses? I hope so. If the Sex Pistols and the Allman Brothers are both simulacra of any one thing, it is this