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Music Review: Various Artists – …First Came Memphis Minnie

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Memphis Minnie was one of the great blues singers of all time and an influence to all the blues women who have come after her.

One of those singers is Maria Muldaur, who put together this tribute CD. It includes previously recorded tracks by Muldaur, solo and in duet with Alvin Youngblood Hart, along with new recordings by Bonnie Raitt, Rory Black, and Ruthie Foster. There are also classic tracks by the late Phoebe Snow and Koko Taylor. Guest musicians include Roy Rogers, David Bromberg, Steve Fruend, and Steve James. Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin even provides slide guitar on the wonderful “Black Rat Swing” by Taylor, one of the all-time queens of the blues.

When one hears “tribute” associated with a music project, it is hard to know what to expect. But on …First Came Memphis Minnie every single singer and every single song is excellent. All the vocalists and musicians capture the spirit of Memphis Minnie, who was not only a delightful vocalist but probably the best female guitar player in blues history and a talented songwriter as well.

The duets with Maria Muldaur and Alvin Youngblood Hart are standouts because their voices complement each other so well. “I’m Goin’ Back Home” and “She Put Me Outdoors” are both excellent, with the latter being possibly my favorite cut on the CD.

Muldaur also really captures the right style and spirit on the other songs she sings: “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” “I’m Sailin’,” “Lookin’ the World Over,” and “Crazy Cryin’ Blues.” Perhaps her best numbers here are the Dixieland “Long as I Can See You Smile” and the amusing “Tricks Ain’t Walkin.” She really shines on bouncy songs with slyly humorous lyrics.

The other new recordings here are equally perfect. You would not expect a blues tribute without Bonnie Raitt, and she is just as good as her fans would expect on “Ain’t Nothin’ In Ramblin’.”

Rory Block does a wonderful “When You Love Me.” Ruthie Foster could not have had a better song to do than “Keep Your Big Mouth Closed,” another favorite on the CD.

It is a great favor to fans that Muldaur included Phoebe Snow’s touching version of “In My Girlish Days” and Koko Taylor’s “Black Rat Swing.” These songs are a tribute to Memphis Minnie and to these two late, lamented singers as well.

Overall, this is just about the most perfect blues tribute this reviewer has ever heard and a must-have for any blues lover.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.