Monday, December 31, 2007

Big Joe Williams – These are My Blues (Testament, 1998)

Ramblin' bluesman Williams hit the college circuit for this recording, cut in 1965 but held for more than 30 years before release. It's a very interesting discovery, as it finds Williams playing a homemade nine string electric guitar, and singing in his deep field holler like voice. Williams was unique amongst bluesmen, idiosyncratic with his unusual guitar and lyrics that switch and swap blues themes and topics to keep the music fresh. He can make anything into a song from the death of a president in the JFK memorial “Man Amongst Men” to a broken down car in the introduction and lyrics of “56 Plymouth.” Williams also mixes classics like his own canonical original “Baby Please Don't Go” with other legendary blues tunes like “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “Bottle Up and Go.” His originality really shines through in a brief take on John Lee Hooker's “Boogie Chillen” where he takes the familiar Hooker riff and bends it to his will. Like his contemporary Lightnin' Hopkins, Williams was a wily and resourceful performer who never passed up a chance to record, and never played anything the same way twice. This is a fine example of him at the height of his powers.

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