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MEANING IN THE BLUES - The 50th Anniversary of Blues Fell This Morning by Paul Oliver (4CD Box Set).

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JSP (JSP 77141 )

Otis Harris, Sam Collins, Bukka White, Rudy Foster, Charley Patton, Funny Papa Smith, Freddie Spruell, Charley Lincoln, George Noble, Tommy Johnson, Hattie Hudson, Little Buddy Doyle, George Hannah, Ora Brown, Tommy Settles, Kokomo Arnold, Frances Wallace, Alice Moore and many more.

In his 1960 book Blues Fell This Morning, Paul Oliver relates the growth of the blues to the history of the black man in America, and reveals the meaning and significance which the music holds for him. A social study alone can't explain the blues: one has to try and enter his world and explore the background of his themes in order to understand the singer. Using 350 quotations from the recorded blues, the author does exactly this.  We go from the slave ship to the plantation, through reconstruction and the ‘Jim Crow' laws of segregation in their basest forms - the ‘freedom' of the chain gang and share cropping, to voodoo, the barbarity of the Ku Klux Klan, and the scourge of incurable diseases. (paraphrased from notes on the original Blues Fell This Morning LP -Philips BBL7369)

That might seem a bit academic and dry but the book was treasured by music fans in the sixties who had just discovered blues music and wanted to know more about it. As well as being an absorbing read that told you more about black people's condition in America than you knew at the time, the book and the accompanying LP (Blues Fell This Morning on Philips BBL7369) showed just how the blues permeated their lives and thinking. It was one of the first books devoted solely to the blues and the LP may well have been the first pre-war blues anthology compiled in the UK. There are those who believe that its influence on the British ‘blues boom' of the sixties is incalculable as there's no doubt that Oliver's later writings - reviews, sleeve-notes, magazine articles and books like Screening The Blues, Conversation With the Blues and Story Of The Blues, were vital to our knowledge and enjoyment of the blues.

The compiler of this 4CD box set, Max Haymes, knows all this, and in his selection of 102 tracks he captures the essence of Oliver's ground breaking research as he re-examines some of the themes from the original book in his 80 page, 21,000 word essay presenting lengthy chapters to accompany the music on each of the CDs. The songs have been carefully chosen to emphasise Max's deliberations on, amongst others, the caste system among blacks (Yellow Girl Blues by Texas Alexander), sexual themes (Sissy Man Blues by Kokomo Arnold and My Pencil Won't Work No More by Bo Carter), hoodoo and superstition (Mojo Hand Blues by Ida Cox), gambling (Four Eleven Forty Four by Papa Charlie Jackson and Policy Dream Blues by Bumble Bee Slim) and bad luck and trouble (Gravel Camp Blues by Lewis Black and No Place To Go by Walter Davis). Aside from these tracks, he also includes mouth watering rarities like Three Sixty Nine Blues by Buddy Doyle, Black Cat Blues by the Old Pal Smoke Shop Four, Kitchen Mechanic Blues by the Excelsior Quartette and Black Cat Makes Thunder by Rudy Foster

Don't expect to find the tracks from the original LP here, Max has included only a couple from that album - maybe because of copyright issues but it's more likely that he considered that other tracks were more relevant to his view. Nothing wrong with that, he's done what he set out to do and that is to celebrate the life and a specific work of Paul Oliver; one of blues music's most loved and respected chroniclers.

 

Review Date: April 2011

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