Friday, September 19, 2003

Elmore James – King of the Slide Guitar (Charly, 2003)

Any number of Elmore James re-issues have carried the “King of the Slide Guitar” title, for Elmore is best known for his slashing slide guitar work. But there’s a lot more to his recorded output than just the brilliant and influential slide playing. There was his voice for one – James had one of the most impassioned voices ever to sing the blues. Perhaps not a suave as B.B. King or Joe Williams, but his singing carry and incredible amount of emotion – he believes what he sings.

This latest re-issue is a three disc offering from the British Charly label and contains the complete recordings of Elmore for the Trumpet, Chief and Fire labels. There’s a pretty well done booklet included with an essay, pictures and discographical information.

Disc One kicks things off in grand style with a early rendition of Elmore’s signature tune “Dust My Broom” from 1951 with the equally legendary Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) on harmonica. “The Twelve Year Old Boy” recounts Elmore’s tale of woe, losing his baby to a youngster – if you’re in the same boat he recommends that you try to pawn the kid off on the neighbors! “Elmore’s Contribution to Jazz” is a blistering instrumental that shows off his guitar playing. Gems abound, the juxtaposition from the slow mournful “The Sky Is Crying” to the just blasting “Baby Please Set a Date” is jaw dropping and gives an example of the range of emotion that James could cover in his music. The version of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is particularly fine as well – a pulsating bass line and skittish drums back Elmore’s over-amped guitar into the stratosphere.

Disc Two is more of the same great stuff – Elmore’s killer slide riffs playing off against pulse pounding bass and drums. There are times where the record companies are trying to go to the well once too often – recycling riffs on some of the tunes in an attempt to hit the R&B charts again. But what’s amazing is the James’ interest and passion never flags. Some nice features for the Broomdusters and a few harp players are on this disc as well. Of particular interest is Elmore’s impassioned reading of the old Sonny Boy Williamson tune “One Way Out” he alters the tune by changing the verses and the wording, and makes it completely his own. Plus the great one-two punch of “Shake Your Moneymaker” and “Look on Yonder Wall,” followed a few songs later by "Sunnyland Train" is hard to beat.

Disc Three coming soon!

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