Saturday, January 19, 2013

Various Artists – …. First Came Memphis Minnie

…. First Came Memphis Minnie
Stony Plain

Memphis Minnie (1897-1973), who began her recording career in the early-1930s, was a pioneering and influential blues artist and certainly the most prominent example of a female blues singer from that era who accompanied herself on guitar. Until Minnie came along, female blues singers – like Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey, Alberta Hunter and so many others – generally fronted traditional jazz bands or worked with a piano player. Minnie, though, could play guitar as well or better than any male artist and was a role model to generations of female musicians who followed in later decades.

…. First Came Memphis Minnie is a set of 13 songs from Memphis Minnie’s repertoire assembled by Maria Muldaur.

Maria, herself, is the dominant artist in the collection with eight songs taken from a couple of the terrific acoustic blues albums she’s done in recent years – two from Richland Woman Blues and six from Sweet Lovin’ Ol’ Soul – on which she’s backed by such great musicians as Del Rey, Steve James and Dave Earl. Two of the most exciting songs, “I’m Goin’ Back Home” and “She Put Me Outdoors,” are terrific duets with Alvin Youngblood Hart playing Joe McCoy to Maria’s Minnie.

The three tracks recorded just for this album are all superb. Bonnie Raitt, playing acoustic guitar, does a great job on “Ain’t Nothin’ in Ramblin’,” proving – as if there were any doubt – she is still a remarkable purveyor of acoustic blues when she wants to be. Rory Block, one of today’s greatest acoustic blues artists, does a soulful solo arrangement of “When You Love Me” with some excellent slide playing, and Ruthie Foster offers a delightfully sassy take on “Keep Your Big Mouth Closed.”

Rounding out the album are two other previously released tracks. The late Phoebe Snow, with backing from David Bromberg, is featured on an elegant version of “In My Girlish Days” from her 1976 album, It Looks Like Snow (Phoebe never did enough of this kind of material), and the late Koko Taylor finishes the album with “Black Rat Swing,” from her 2007 release, Old School, the album’s only contemporary Chicago-style electric track.

Starting with the songs from her own albums and rounding the tribute out with five offerings from other artists, Maria Muldaur has assembled a worthy tribute to one of the most important figures in blues history.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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