When Chris Strachwitz, a Lightnin’ Hopkins enthusiast, and his friend, musicologist Mack McCormick, discovered a never-before recorded songster named Mance Lipscomb, age 65, with more than 350 songs in his repertoire, in June of 1960, they hit pay dirt. Strachwitz founded his Arhoolie label, and his first release was Lipscomb’s Texas Sharecropper and Songster. (When Arhoolie released its first CD, in 1994, it was also a Mance Lipscomb album, a compilation called Texas Blues Guitar).
This recording in turn brought Lipscomb to the attention of folk festival organizers; in early 1961, this man who had never traveled beyond Houston, 70 miles away from his home town of Navasota, was featured at the Berkeley Folk Festival. In the remaining 15 years of his life, Lipscomb recorded many more albums for Arhoolie, routinely committing 20 to 30 songs per session, which means there were tons of unreleased material when he died, in January 1976).
But his first album after his initial Arhoolie release was actually done for a major label, Reprise Records; Trouble in Mind appeared in August 1961, quickly went out of print, and has never been reissued since. Which brings us to 2003; Trouble in Mind, with its original cover photo and back notes, but with 13 previously unissued tracks added to the original 12, and with copious additional notes from Bill Dahl, is now being offered in a limited edition of 2500 copies by the folks at Rhino Handmade (only on the Internet, at www.rhinohandmade.com).
With a gentle, unassuming voice and cleanly picked guitar style, Lipscomb’s style is more reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt’s than it is of, say, fellow Texan Lightnin’ Hopkins’. No matter whether he is playing a blues, a rag, a story-song of a religious song, Lipscomb is equally at ease; a whole life spent playing Saturday night parties for his neighbors meant that he developed a strong rhythmic quality, while slowly transforming each song in his repertoire to suit his personality.
To these ears, there is no appreciable difference between the 1961-released tracks and the 13 new ones, even though these new tracks include a higher percentage of first takes. Everything is of the same high quality, with a relaxed, back-porch feel and clean, crisp sound. (There are a couple of slight sound level drops during “Hey Lawdy Mama”). And there are supposedly 25 more tracks from this July 1961 session lying around!
In a word, heaven is one click away for (only 2500) fans of acoustic music.
--- Benoît Bričre
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