JANE VOSS & HOYLE OSBORNE
Never No More Blues; Get to the Heart; Pullin’ Through
Jane Voss & Hoyle Osborne, who have been making great music together for 35 or so years have just released a fabulous new album, Never No More Blues, and have also recently reissued two of their earliest LPs, Get to the Heart and Pullin’ Through, which I don’t believe have ever been on CD before.
Never No More Blues is an absolutely sublime set of songs and tunes dating from the early days of classic blues, jazz, ragtime and country music – many of them showing the extent to which musical styles and influences were already blending in the early decades of the last century.
With 17 tracks stretching more than 77 minutes, it’s a very full set with nary a wasted moment. Jane is a great blues singer and does wonderful interpretations of such tunes as Ma Rainey’s “Farewell Daddy Blues,” Alberta Hunter’s “Downhearted Blues” and a version of “Blues (My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me),” based on a 1919 version by Esther Walker, a slower, very different version than the one popularized in the ‘60s by Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band.
Some of my favorites in the set include Elizabeth Cotten’s “(That’s Why) I’m Going Away,” which Jane sings with a gentle country lilt; Jimmie Rodger’s “Drunken Bar Room Blues,” in which the blues and early country music collide (I’ve always heard this song as a relative of “St. James Infirmary”); “Cheer Up! Smile! Nertz!” a Depression-era song that lampooned the efforts of popular culture of the day to get people’s minds off their troubles; and “Leaving Home,” a version of “Frankie and Johnny” recorded by Charlie Poole in 1926.
Jane (lead vocals and guitar) and Hoyle (piano, vocals and guitar) are joined throughout the album by The Blue Blazes, a stellar group that includes fiddler Suzy Thompson, guitarists Eric Thompson and Tony Marcus, both of whom also play mandolin and banjo, and bassist Stuart Brotman, who also plays tuba.
The Blue Blazes are heard to great effect on three terrific instrumentals built around Hoyle’s formidable skills playing ragtime and jazz piano. “St. Louis Tickle,” adapted for the guitar by Dave Van Ronk, is returned to pianistic roots. “Ape Man,” written by pianist Jimmy Blythe is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, while the extended version of William H. Tyers’ 1911 composition, “Panama (A Characteristic Novelty),” is sweet and lovely.
Jane and Hoyle’s first album as a duo, Get to the Heart, originally released back in 1981, was one of my favorite LPs of the day. The album opens with Jane’s, “Gateway Blues (Blues for Bessie), an infectious and unforgettable tribute to Bessie Smith, and continues with a mix of original and borrowed tunes including Hoyle’s “Salamander Shuffle,” a wonderful piano instrumental; Jane’s title track, which explains all the right reasons for singing and playing music; and Larry Clinton’s “The Devil with the Devil,” a swinging, personal declaration of independence.
Their second album, Pullin’ Through from 1983, includes more of the (equally great) same with a mix of old tunes like Memphis Minnie’s “In My Girlish Days” and “I’m Pulling Through,” a jazz ballad recorded by Billie Holiday, with in-the-tradition originals like Jane’s “Good-for-Nothin’ Blues” and “I’ve Been on the Road Too Long.”
Pullin’ Through also includes several great songs dating from the 1970s folk scene. These include Malvina Reynolds’ “On the Rim of the World,” a sad, compelling portrait of a homeless young girl; Tommy Thompson’s “Hot Buttered Rum,” a dreary-but-lovely love song set in the dead of winter; and Bob Bossin’s “Show Us the Length,” a hilarious response to high school beauty pageant culture. The latter is one of two bonus tracks on the CD reissue that were originally released on a 45-rpm single in 1983.
I will indulge myself with a personal reminisce of one of those songs. In 1973, I produced a double-bill concert at Dawson College in Montreal with Malvina and Bruce “Utah” Phillips. Before the concert, Malvina asked me for some tape so she could tape the lyrics to a new song she’d written that day to the mic stand. So I produced the world premiere performance of “On the Rim of the World.”