Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Big Bill Broonzy - Where the Blues Began (Recall, 2000)

Big Bill Broonzy was always ahead of his time, whether it was moving to Chicago from the rural south in search of a musical career, or taking his act on the road in Europe as part of one of the first folk revivals. This two disc set surveys his career from the late twenties to the late forties and manages to capture most of the high points of his long career. It's interesting to hear the development of his career from a solo guitarist and singer to a musician who worked in larger group settings with some of the finest jazz and blues talent of his day. He even found time to mentor the next generation of southern bluesmen to move to Chicago, having a lasting impact on Muddy Waters (who dedicated an album to him) among many others. Some of his earliest blues on disc one focus on him as a solo performer, like "I Can't Be Satisfied" where his warm vocals and deft guitar cut through the rough recording quality. Bill also enjoyed train songs as did many bluesmen (the locomotive played a large part in blues stories and lore) like on "Bull Cow Blues" and "Mr. Conductor Man." As Broonzy became more established in Chicago, his music and arrangement became more elaborate, but never became so urbane that they lost their rootsy feel. "Texas Tornado Blues" and "Ramblin' Woman" feature Bill's guitar and vocals and are instrumental in paving the way for artists like T-Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown who would soon play the blues with large ensembles. While it's impossible for two discs to cover an artist as expansive as Broonzy in his entirety, this set is an excellent place to make his acquaintance and learn of his unique contributions to the blues.

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