Tuesday, April 14, 2009

J.B. Lenior - Vietnam Blues (Evidence, 1995)

These stark yet beautiful recordings were originally released on the German L+R label in the mid 60's and still resonate as some of the most powerful music to confront the evils of racial injustice. Lenoir came to Chicago in the 1950's and played with the likes of Muddy Waters and Sunnyland Slim, making records for J.O.B. and Chess that were popular and influential, culminating in the hit "Mamma Talk To Your Daughter" in 1954. By the mid sixties however, Lenoir was scuffling through hard times - rock 'n' roll had eroded his audience, and he was branching out into challenging musical forms like African music and deep acoustic blues. The blues don't get any deeper and stronger than are found here, especially when he renounces Alabama for the bombings and killings taking place their during the burgeoning civil rights movement in "Alabama Blues." Much like John Coltrane's famous composition "Alabama" which was inspired by the same events, Lenior's music draws strength from its quiet courage and conviction, and is inspiring in its honesty. "Born Dead," "Down on Mississippi" and "Shot on James Merideth" cover the same territory brilliantly - it is impossible not to admire J.B. Lenoir, not only for his superb songwriting and guitar playing, but for his quality of spirit that enabled him to document these injustices so eloquently. Although these albums are primarily devoted to protest music, he also gives glimpses of other aspects of his musical personality, like the gospel songs "God's Word" and "Whale Has Swallowed Me" and he even reprises "Mama Talk to Your Daughter" as an acoustic rave up. It's hard to recommend this music highly enough, both as a documentarian of history and struggle and a maker great music, Lenoir's achievement was triumphant and will echo through the blues for all time.

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