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December 2013

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Various Artists
The Story of Piano Blues - From the Country to the City
Wolf Records

Piano Blues

Wolf Records, a tireless chronicler on the American blues tradition, has put out a very nice collection of blues piano legends with The Story of Piano Blues - From the Country to the City. All of the ten artists represented on the 19 selections should be familiar names to most blues aficionados, with the most notable, Pinetop Perkins and Henry Gray, getting the lion's share of the selections. Other ivory ticklers contributing songs include James Crutchfield, Boogaloo Ames, Jimmy Walker, Robert Shaw, Mose Vinson, Big Joe Duskin, Booker T Laury, and Detroit Junior. These recordings were all captured over a 20-year span (1978 to 1997) for assorted Wolf releases, and in most cases have the featured pianist playing without any other accompaniment.

The album opens in fine fashion with Perkins doing a solo rendition of Eddie Boyd's "Five Long Years." Need I say that, like everything else Pinetop ever recorded, it's great? Following that is a haunting version by Gray of his oft-recorded classic, "Cold Chills."

One of the more interesting songs is Ames' "Tommy Dorsey's Boogie Woogie," which at the start sounds a lot like the piano classic "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" before it heads off into other directions.

It would be difficult to put together a collection of blues piano classics without including some version of "Every Day I Have The Blues," and Perkins takes care of us with one of the four recordings captured by Wolf in 1997 when Pinetop was still only a spry 84 years old. The same applies to the classic Avery Parrish tune, "After Hours," with the then Mississippi-based Ames providing us with a fine version here. Based on his two contributions on this disc, Ames is an artist who was sadly under-recorded before his death in 2002 at the age of 81.

While all of the artists were world class piano players, they were also very good vocalists. But the one who stands out just for the sheer power of his pipes is Big Joe Duskin on his two cuts, both recorded in 1982 in front of a live audience in Vienna, Austria, "If You Want To Be My Woman" and "Key To The Highway." The man probably never needed a microphone to amplify his voice.

The same could be said about the powerful voice of Booker T Laury, with his two cuts, "Big Legged Woman" and "You Can Go Your Way," recorded in front of a lively and enthusiastic audience of Austrian blues fans in 1987.

Closing the CD is the oldest recording on the disc, a 1978 version of his classic "Call My Job" by Detroit Junior. This is also the only one recorded with a full band, as Junior was backed here by Homesick James (guitar), Small Blues Charlie (bass) and Ted Harvey (drums).

I haven't mentioned all of the cuts on this CD, but trust me when I say that there's not a weak number among the 19 songs on this album. Highly recommended!

--- Bill Mitchell

 

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