Blind Willie Johnson/Tommy Johnson
Johnson & Johnson
Blind Willie Johnson: The Complete Blind Willie Johnson (Columbia/Legacy '93)
Between 1927 and 1930, in his early thirties and probably his prime, the Texas-based Johnson applied his gravelly voice and dexterous bottleneck to 30 gospel sides. On 19 of these he was accompanied by a female singer, usually his first wife Willie Harris, and in a sense lyrics and melodies are rendered superfluous by the sound of his gruff false bass shadowed and set right by a simpatico soprano: a sane, haunting aural image of suffering and succor that's hard to get too much of. But most of the songs are at least solid in themselves, and refreshingly unfamiliar unless Johnson planted the seed of their renown, as he did with "Motherless Children," "If I Had My Way," "John the Revelator," and the indomitable "Praise God I'm Satisfied." Like most gospel, they value melodic flow and rhythmic momentum more than the Delta blues other Johnsons purveyed. I'm not going to say they rock. But you might. A
Tommy Johnson: Essential Blues Masters (Goldenlane '09)
This Johnson is a Delta legend best appreciated by blues aesthetes like the late great Robert Palmer‑-who hears, for instance, "a slippery, danceable swing" in guitar accompaniments others account regionally generic. Johnson messed with your woman, drank Sterno for breakfast, and claimed meetings at the crossroads with you-know-who. But he only recorded for two years of his 1896-1956 lifespan. Like most collections available, this one preserves 17 tracks and 13 songs, five of which I have now removed from my iPod for reasons of distressed audio, compositional shortfall, or (usually) both. I've also banished three alternate versions, although I kept both scratchy "Black Mare Blues" just to hear New Orleans's Nehi Boys kick in their piano and clarinet, which do Johnson a lot more good than you-know-who. As I hear it, he has two drop-dead classics in his kit: the indelible "Big Road Blues" and the clarion "Cool Drink of Water Blues." The frailing "Maggie Campbell Blues" and the confessional "Canned Heat Blues" are close behind, and the rowdy-to-miserable likes of "Big Fat Mamma Blues" and "Lonesome Home Blues" fill in the blanks. I saved serious bucks by purchasing this iteration as a download. It also includes a posthumously electrified band version of "Canned Heat Blues" designated "an abomination" by the one blues aesthete on the interweb to acknowledge its existence. Personally, I welcome it as a hint of what might have been. B PLUS
Original article with follow-up:
Rolling Stone's mid-year best albums list:
- Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
- Jack White: Blunderbuss
- Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Americana
- Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than . . .
- John Mayer: Born and Raised
- Sleigh Bells: Reign of Terror
- Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas
- The Beach Boys: That's Why God Made the Radio
- Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory
- Best Coast: The Only Place
- Japandroids: Celebration Rock
- Killer Mike: RAP Music
- Patti Smith: Banga
- Azealia Banks: 1991
- The Shins: Port of Morrow
- Bonnie Raitt: Slipstream
- Dr. John: Locked Down
- Regina Spektor: What We Saw From the Cheap Seats
- Hospitality: Hospitality
- Escort: Escort
- Garbage: Not Your Kind of People
- Norah Jones: . . . Little Broken Hearts
- Himanshu: Nehru Jackets
- Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls
- Schoolboy Q: Habits & Contradictions
- Django Django: Django Django
- Smashing Pumpkins: Oceania
- Amadou & Mariam: Folila
- Sharon Van Etten: Tramp
- Beach House: Bloom
- Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros: Here
- Justin Townes Earle: Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
- M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion
- Allo Darlin': Europe
- Bobby Womack: The Bravest Man in the Universe
- Usher: Looking 4 Myself
- Adam Lambert: Trespassing
- Rufus Wainwright: Out of the Game
- Grimes: Visions
- El-P: Cancer 4 Cure
Only quibble: aside from D'Angelo, all the recent "R.&B." (as the New Yorker puts it) performers he cites are pretty feeble and inconsistent. Ocean operates on a different plane.
Jazz Prospecting up at my site today. The two A- records may be of interest to non-jazzbos (at least as much as the recent instrumental odds & ends): the Surman has Eno-ish (or Hassell-ian) synths under the reeds; the Garchik offers a twist on gospel trombone. Should have mentioned that Garchik has a record release party coming up July 25 in Brooklyn (Shapeshifter Lab), where he'll replace his overdubs with nearly every important trombonist in NYC.
I agree, the thumbs down thing is annoying.
Anyone can thumb me down however much anyone wants. I don't care. That's democracy, or whatever it is. Plenty of people like me, and some of them are people on this board. Some people don't like me, ditto. I'm okay with that.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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