Cephas & Wiggins
Shoulder to Shoulder
It’s hard to believe its been
four years since Cephas & Wiggins released their last record, the
highly acclaimed, Somebody Told The Truth, on Alligator. Like a
fine wine that needed time to age, the cuts on their new record,
Shoulder to Shoulder (Alligator Records), reflect the wisdom and
maturity these purveyors of the Piedmont style of blues have been known
for. It’s a record that continues to shine on the amazing guitar talents
of John Cephas and the harmonica stylings of Phil Wiggins while
furthering our appreciation for a style of blues seldom heard anymore.
Opening with a Cephas original, "Ain’t Seen My Baby," we find John
looking everywhere for the woman he loves. She’s built the way he likes
her, with big legs, long curly hair and heart to match, but she’s
nowhere to be found. The piano of Ann Rabson provides an endearing
backing to "I Did Do Right." According to John, “the best thing I ever
did in my life was when I did do got rid of you.” The girl in question
was stepping out on him and the smart thing to do was to show her the
door. I particularly like Phil’s harp fills complementing Ann’s keyboard
work. This is just a wonderfully well-done song by all.
John’s vocals are the highlight on their version of the Skip James
classic, "Catfish Blues." Phil’s soulful harp musings provide the
backdrop for John’s reflections about life as a catfish. “…I would have
somebody setting out a hook….setting out a hook, for me.” At least as a
catfish you can swim free. The pace picks up considerably with Ann’s
jump piano playing on "Suzie Q." Everyone in the neighborhood has their
version of the dance, “Suzie Q,” in this Sonny Boy Williamson original.
“Nothing to it baby…it’s so easy to do…..Suzie Q.”
"All I’ve Got Is Them Blues" is every man’s anthem. Love’s gone wrong,
misery finds you in the midst of a deep funk….and all you’re hoping for
is: “send me a woman…a woman to love.” Whether or not love will cure the
blues is open for debate but at least it’s a step in the right
“Well I’m going away…..where
I don’t know” are the opening words to John and Phil’s adaptation of the
Charley Patton song, "Dirt Road." The covers that John and Phil chose
for this record reflect astute choices and compliment John’s original
songwriting efforts wonderfully.
"Broke and Hungry" is a place we’ve all been. “Well, I’m broke and I’m
hungry….raggedy and dirty too….If I clean up baby…can I spend all night
with you?” "Broke and Hungry" provides the perfect segue to Blind Boy
Fuller’s "Three Ball Blues." John’s on his way to the pawn shop to sell
his shoes for money so that he can eat. “I’m on my way to the pawn shop
with my shoes in my hand,” and sees three balls mounted on the wall.
Three balls on the wall are the pawn shop owner’s way of saying, “Two to
one you don’t get your stuff out of here at all!”
The tale of woe continues with "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" “Yes I’m
down on my luck….hey buddy….can you spare a buck?” Life in the streets
is tough and begging for everything from a dime to a buck is a tough way
to survive. Fortunately, John’s attitude begins to change in the
traditional "I Won’t Be Down." Even though he’s down for the moment he
won’t be down for long….a better day is coming.
"Seattle Rainy Day Blues" is
probably my favorite song on the disc. "Another rainy day in
Seattle….don’t believe I can stay here no more! Pack up my clothes sweet
mama, I’m going to ride that midnight train….and wherever I move to it
will be better than all of this rain!” John obviously is not a big fan
of the weather in Seattle and it’s time to move on out.
"The Blues Three Ways" is a live cut that includes the piano
accompaniment of Daryl Davis, and is the closing song on the record.
“Some people say the blues….the blues ain’t so bad…..but you know it’s
the worst old feeling…that I’ve ever had!” Classic John Cephas and a
wonderful way to close out this wonderful record.
Listening to Shoulder to Shoulder is a wonderful reminder of an
era of blues that has almost passed us by. The wonderful musicianship of
John Cephas and Phil Wiggins reminds us that all forms of blues are
important. And while the traditional stylings of Delta and Texas blues
have long since gone electric, there is still beauty to be found in the
handiwork of these Piedmont masters.
Enjoy this record and take
the time to catch Cephas & Wiggins live if you can. Their almost 30
years of playing together is reflected in the seamless way Shoulder
to Shoulder weaves its way through the wonderful original writings
of John Cephas and the brilliant classics they’ve chosen to cover.
--- Kyle Deibler