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Music Review: Various Artists – True Blues

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While the blues has become very diversified over the last several decades, falling into categories like “blues rock” and “southern rock,” all blues comes from a rich tradition of soulful, earthy music born of hard living. True Blues brings together stellar contemporary blues musicians Guy Davis, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Corey Harris, Taj Mahal, Shemekia Copeland, and Phil Wiggins to celebrate that tradition in a memorable collection of legendary blues songs. The songs were recorded live at various locations around the U.S., with excellent sound quality throughout.

truebluesThe CD gets off to a blistering start with Harris, Davis and Hart trading vocals on Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man,” and Wiggins adding mean harmonica. Hart then takes Blind Willie Johnson’s “Motherless Children Have a Hard Time” and does it Chicago-blues style, with some great finger-picking on guitar and an intimate, emotional vocal.

For “Everybody Got to Change Sometime,” Harris sticks very close to the bare-bones, simple, yet powerful original version by Sleepy John Estes, complete with rhythmic acoustic guitar. Mahal then channels the gospel blues masters to deliver a mesmerizing version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Done Changed My Way of Living.” Davis follows with a gritty “Saturday Night Blues,” which is a lesser known song but which sounds here like John Lee Hooker with its sly lament about a man, his women, and his money.

A true highlight of the collection occurs as Copeland, performing with Davis, Hart, Harris and Wiggins, brings her own belting vocal style to “Bring Your Fine Self Home,” a song her father, Johnny “Clyde” Copeland recorded with Albert Collins in the ’80s. She does him proud.

Hart, Davis, Harris and Wiggins take on Lead Belly’s “Roberta” in rousing fashion, which is followed by a heartfelt version of Blind Blake’s “C.C. Pill Blues,” by Harris. Then comes another highlight of the CD, Hart’s version of the very old folk-turned=blues song “Gallows Pole.” This song was first collected in a different form in the 19th century, but Hart performs Lead Belly’s haunting version.

Davis applies his distinctive raspy voice to Robert Wilkins’ “That’s No Way to Get Along,’ followed by Mahal doing the only song on the CD written by the person performing it, his own sprightly “Mailbox Blues.” The CD ends with Copeland, Davis, Harris, Hart, and Wiggins doing Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind,” made extra special by great harmonica playing and Copeland’s turn at the vocals.

Altogether, True Blues lives up to its name, and should do a fine job of introducing new listeners to these great blues classics while satisfying classic blues lovers of long standing as well.

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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.