Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – Set 6
(MSESET6 – 6 CDs. Album review by Chris Parker)
Disc 1: Papa Charlie Jackson 1924–29
Disc 2: Memphis Jug Band 1927–34
Disc 3: Barbecue Bob 1927–30
Disc 4: Leecan & Cooksey 1926–27
Disc 5: Roosevelt Sykes 1929–34
Disc 6: Mississippi Sheiks 1930–34
The sixth six-CD set in the Matchbox Bluesmaster series is slightly more geared towards “hokum” music than previous sets, featuring the work of popular artists as well as more “pure” blues artists, but as its predecessors, it is a veritable gold mine, containing many priceless nuggets of early recorded music, all scrupulously annotated by world authority Paul Olivier.
dad charlie jackson is unusual in that his favorite instrument is the banjo rather than the guitar (although three tracks here feature his flexible guitar playing), and this gives his music a slightly vaudevillian flavor, appropriate for his work as an artist on shows of medicine, where he’d perform for hoochy-coochy dancers etc., using contemporary events and issues as inspiration for a number of his original songs. His approach is pleasantly informal, his singing often interspersed with spoken interludes; as Oliver comments, he “never seemed to succumb to complaints…but recounted fights and difficulties with wry, sometimes wry humour”.
The Memphis Jug Band needs no introduction – anyone interested in early American music will no doubt already know such timeless classics as ‘Stealin’, Stealin’, ‘Whitewash Station Blues’ and ‘Got a Letter from My Darlin’ – but this selection includes other singers as well as will shade, Ben Ramey and Will Weldon, among them the sweet strident Jennie Clayton and Charlie “Bozo” Nickerson. Their material, delivered with all their usual panache (with the musical saw, the kazoo, the washboard as well as the jug), is anchored in the blues, but also contains dance material and road-show standards, very appreciated by audiences eager to distract themselves from the vicissitudes associated with the Great Depression.
The CD containing Bob the BBQ (Robert Hicks) begins with ‘When the Saints Go Marching in’, a relatively rare selection at the time (although it later became the anthem of the New Orleans Revival), and continues with another religious number, ‘Jesus’ Blood Can Make Me Whole’, but the singer is much more comfortable with secular titles like ‘Easy Rider, Don’t You Deny My Name’ or the hokum of ‘It Won’t be Long Now’ , a humorous song performed with his older brother Charley, who taught him how to play the guitar. Barbecue Bob has a warm baritone voice and an eclectic repertoire, so his untimely death at age 29 from pneumonia robbed the music of great potential.
Leecan and Cooksey are Bobby Leecan (guitar) and Robert Cooksey (harmonica), and most of the tracks on their CD are duets (except for a “Blind Bobbie Baker” solo version of the classic “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”), all approached with great brilliance, if not great subtlety. They also collaborated with the cornet player Tom Morris in the Dixie Jassers Washboard Band, which provides the final four elements of this lively and intriguing selection.
Roosevelt Sykes is another household name, caught here at the start of a fifty-year career. Professional to the core, he clearly hit his stride early on (he’s in his mid-twenties on these sessions), dispensing an easy-rolling piano that perfectly complements both his own engaging vocals and those of others included. here, such as Isabelle Sykes, Charlie McFadden and Carl Rafferty. As Oliver points out, Sykes was “unusual among blues singers for having an outgoing disposition and a … generally optimistic outlook,” and his inclusion in this set brings welcome emotional variety to the proceedings.
The sheikhs of Mississippi are a family string group with rural origins featuring Bo Carter (Chatmon) and Walter Vinson among others, and their repertoire is fascinating and varied, including songs about everything from prohibition to automobiles and numbers racketeering. violin playing Lonnie Chatmon is certainly not particularly melodious, but if the group lacks a bit of strict musicality, it more than makes up for it with the spirit and energy of its performances.
This is the penultimate issue of a seven-series series, but Saydisc is set to continue its admirable reissue policy with five more volumes (each of six CDs) of 1970s Matchbox blues releases (including the Library of Congress recordings), field recordings, and some unreleased material. Equipment.
Blues Master Vol. 6 was released on February 4, 2022
LINK: Pre-order on Presto Music