Thanks in part to the luridly alluring title and the enthusiastically informative liner notes by Bob Koester, this solid collection was many a young musician's introduction to the men who pioneered blues piano in the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt Sykes is the best represented artist here, and his leering vocals are hard to resist: After hearing the ribald metaphor of "Dresser Drawers," you'll never view furniture quite the same way again.
This compilation provides an interesting survey of 9 blues slide guitar players. Collected from various independent record labels and recorded over the period 1960 through 1993, all of these tracks have been previously released albeit on hard to find albums and CDs. It is great to have these tracks collected in one place.
CDs from this collection began to appear in the sale of one after the other in early 1998. The collection was designed primarily for fans of blues and those wishing to join him in France, Canada and other French-speaking countries, as its literary part was originally made in French and it seems and has not been translated into other languages.
Blues With a Message isn't just about lost love and the toils of specific lives, the blues (particularly within the folk-blues traditions) spent some time dealing with sociopolitical issues on the side, primarily before the rise of electric blues. Here, Arhoolie has compiled a set of pieces related to a surprisingly large number of issues. Among them: Minstrel shows, the mechanization of cotton farming, and its related exodus to the North, sharecropping, segregation, the Korean War, the influenza epidemic, the New Deal, civil rights movements, Chicago employment opportunities – all are given a song or two here. The music quality is roughly equivalent to many of the folk-blues recordings available, though the "big name" artists are largely absent from this one (Lightnin Hopkins does make an appearance singing about sharecropping, however). The songs are deliberately focused on the issues more than the music, but the music can still carry its soul.
Although this CD is titled Hokum Blues, all but two of the eight groups actually predate hokum (which came of age in the fall of 1928), although all have some aspects of the good-time music. The performances are quite obscure, with two titles apiece by Ukulele Bob Williams, the Two of Spades, Louise Ross, Feathers and Frogs, and Swan & Lee (the only recordings by any of these performers). In addition, there are four songs apiece from Ki Ki Johnson and the team of Danny Small & Ukulele Mays, plus seven numbers (including two instrumentals) by the Pebbles. Listening to this early acoustic music, the performances both look forward to hokum and even swing in spots, while hinting strongly at its early roots in string music and minstrel shows. Collectors will want this one. – by Scott Yanow