As its title indicates, The Blues & Salvation, a two-disc anthology of previously unreleased masters lives at the cross section of classic roots blues and gospel. Filled with over two hours of music, the album features both giants of the past like the Rev. Gary Davis, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee as well as a number of artists not quite household names—Jemima James, Louisiana Red, and George Higgs—who clearly deserve to be. This is a collection of 38 gems, many reminiscent of the kinds of musical collations that were once available via Folkways Records that no blues enthusiast should ignore.
Recorded over a period extending from 1955 through 2008, the sound on some of the earlier pieces suffers from some surface noise, but it nonetheless seems appropriate for the content. Erratic sound quality is endemic to classic blues; it is a small price to pay for historic preservation. That said, the large majority of the tracks have no problem.
The Rev. Gary Davis, hugely influential during the period of the folk revival of the ’60s, shows off his distinctive guitar style on instrumentals like “Blues in E” and “I Didn’t Want to Join the Band.” Blues and gospel merge in songs like “Crucifixion,” “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well,” and “Can’t Make This Journey By Myself.” And we even get to hear him do a little preaching on “Sermon.” Other than Davis, the spiritual side of the album adds a track from Philadelphia’s The Wooten Singers’ “His Name Is Jesus.”
Brownie McGhee solos on “Rainy Day” and joins with his duo partner Sonny Terry for “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Terry also joins with Bob Malenky for some harmonica work on “One Woman Man.” Louisiana Red and guitarist Lefty Dizz do a dynamite “Going Train Blues,” and Red solos on “Tell Me Who.”
George Higgs, noted Piedmont Blues stalwart, opens the first disc with “Who Told You Woman,” and follows with “Sweet Little Girl” and “Honey Good Honey.” He and Jemima James work together on a swinging “Shoes By the Door.” James herself does some country blues on tunes like “I Got Him Now,” “Rolling Into Town,” and “No Matter What You Do.” The rich-voiced Deneen McEachem has one song, “There’s Nothing Left to Say,” just enough to make you wonder why only one.
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