Thursday, January 15, 2004

Thanks to David who sent a copy of a book review from the Los Angeles Times for Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues by Elijah Wald; here are some excerpts:

In “Escaping the Delta,” Wald places Johnson in his
proper context, allowing us to hear him as he would
have been heard in 1936. More bravely, he confronts
the generations of White Blues Boys (most of them
boys, most of them white, including everyone from Eric
Clapton to the street-corner slide guitarist) who
commandeered and reconfigured the blues.


Johnson’s “Come On in My Kitchen” is a much deeper
performance, perhaps his finest. It is also his most
churchy. He begins the recording with two moaned lines
and then sings “You better come on in my kitchen
because it’s going to be raining outdoors.” He employs
a growling tone that immediately, almost shockingly,
mimics the hugely popular gospel singer Blind Willie
Johnson. The preaching tactics could be a light-voiced
attempt to duplicate Son House’s huge sound, but I
think the echo of Blind Willie is deliberate. (Blind
Willie was never a blues singer, and the attempt to
recruit him as such in the recent PBS celebration of
the blues—why call him a blues singer? well, because
the producers think of him that way—was inaccurate and
even, by the standards he upheld, offensive.) Johnny
Shines says that “Come On in My Kitchen” could move
grown men and women to tears, as any passionate,
gospel-rooted performance ought. Wald notes that the
verses are fungible and generic. I notice that the
penultimate verse invokes a woman in trouble,
abandoned by her friends, and that the last verse
summons a vision of universal storm. Johnson recorded
a second take of the song, and though not as intense a
meditation, it ends with a verse about a motherless
child.


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