CD of the Month

HENRY TOWNSEND AND ROOSEVELT SYKES: Blues Piano and Guitar – Washington University, Graham Chapel, 1973

Omnivore Recordings OV-330 (Two CDs: 53:50; 53:40)

CD One: HENRY TOWNSEND: Sloppy Drunk Again/ Tired Of Being Mistreated/ Lost A Good Woman/ Henry’s Worry Blues/ How Can It Be/The Way Henry Feel/ Got To Reap What You Sow/ Why We Love Each Other So (with Vernell Townsend); ROOSEVELT SYKES: Night Time Is The Right Time/ Driving Wheel/ Boot That Thing/ Thanks But No Thanks/ Ride The Boogie/ Dirty Mother For You (Don’t You Know)/ Dresser Blues 

CD Two: HENRY TOWNSEND AND ROOSEVELT SYKES: Done Got Tired/ The War Is Over; ROOSEVELT SYKES: Life Is A Puzzle/ Gulf Port Boogie/ Honeysuckle Rose/ Love Me Once More/ Red Eyed Jesse Bell/ Ice Cream Freezer/ What You Did Last Night/ Sweet Home Chicago/ Ready, Willing And Able/ Dangerous Man; HENRY TOWNSEND: Guitar Boogie/ All My Money Gone/ Tears Come Rollin’ Down (with Vernell Townsend)

One of the great, but short-lived, reissue labels of the 1970s was Leroy Pierson’s Nighthawk, which issued nine of the finest albums of their kind. Pierson was not only able to draw on a very rich collection of mostly post-war downhome blues 78s for the content, but also had a thoughtful and imaginative approach to compiling his anthologies, with very satisfying results (‘Down Behind The Rise’, Nighthawk 106, would probably be a desert island disc for me, and any of the others could well be contenders). 

As well as the reissues, the label also produced an album of new recordings by Henry Townsend, ‘Mule’, Nighthawk 201, only the second LP by this important St. Louis guitarist, pianist and singer (and very different to the decent, if rather dry, set produced by Sam Charters in the 1960s). There were no more Nighthawk blues albums, as after that, Pierson turned to his other passion, reggae, and in due course, the label was sold. Now owned by Omnivore, it returns to blues and to Henry Townsend with this fine set of live recordings, from February 1973, produced by Pierson and Cheryl Pawelski, predating ‘Mule’ by some years.

Townsend plays only guitar on this occasion. He sounds a little hesitant at first, but as the evening goes on, and he picks up on the enthusiastic response of an evidently captivated audience, he relaxes into it, and both vocals and playing get stronger and more confident. He’s soon on fine form, his solo tracks strongly evoking the sound of his pre-war days. As he tells the audience, the old recordings were a long time ago and ‘I kind-of varied away from the style of that time’, but the character of his 1920s and ’30s work shines through as he revisits songs like ‘Henry’s Worried Blues’. There are fine versions, too, of songs he played on with Walter Davis in the 1940s, ‘Reap What You Sow’ and ‘Tears Came Rolling Down’, the latter sung beautifully by his wife Vernell Townsend. 

Roosevelt Sykes, sharing the bill that same evening, was well used to playing before more varied audiences, and his solo set opens with a bang, a lovely version of his classic ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’, playing beautifully and hollering the blues. He follows on with another hit, announcing it as ‘The Mighty Driving Wheel’, and has the crowd with him all the way. By the time he’s dashed off a few fiery boogies and moved on to ‘Dirty Mother’, they’re eating out of his hands. ‘I have no control over your thoughts’, he tells them and you can almost hear the twinkle in his eye.

The second disc opens with a couple of duets, the pair entirely comfortable together from the start, making ‘Done Got Tired’ one of the set’s highlights. After this, they alternate solo performances for a bit, all of a standard. Sykes plays a piano boogie and Townsend a guitar boogie (with a touch of Hooker thrown in), both going down a storm. The last several tracks are over to Sykes, who shows his versatility with ‘Honeysuckle Rose’, educates the audience on the early history of blues piano with an excellent ‘Red-Eyed Jesse Bell’, stomps it on down with ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ and leaves them clapping and whooping with a pair of rocking encores. All of which goes to show why Sykes never had to bother so much about day jobs. Life was a bit different for Townsend, but his heart never left the blues, and there’s plenty of evidence of that here. This is a thoroughly excellent record of an extraordinary concert, with no sign of that fuzzy sound we too often get from old live tapes. Highly recommended.

Ray Templeton

JIM ALLCHIN: Prime Blues

Sandy Key Music CD-JA005 (53:24)

Give It Up/ Devil Don’t Sleep/ Voodoo Doll/ Snuggle Up/ Jimmy’s Boogie/ Summer Sunrise/ Enough Is Enough/ Found The Blues/ Two Bad Dreams/ Pawn Shop Man/ Lost My Mind/ Up To Destiny/ Tech Blues/ Logoff 

The title and story line of the great swinging autobiographical ‘Found The Blues’ sums up Florida-born guitarist and singer Jim Allchin’s love of blues music. He has surrounded himself with mighty fine musicians for this, his latest album. 

Tom Hambridge produced the set and also plays drums throughout. The Memphis Horns, who include Charles Rose, Jim Hoke, Steve Hermann and Douglas Moffet, appear on some numbers and guest Bobby Rush makes an appearance on vocals and harp on the tough sounding blues of ‘Two Bad Dreams’. Another guest, this time Mike Zito, takes vocals on the up-tempo rocking and rolling ‘Enough Is Enough’ that has an infectious heavy riff running through the track. 

It’s clear from the get go that Allchin is a very gifted guitar player who can turn out some heavy sounds with ease. As an example, give a listen to the easy swinging ‘Devil Don’t Sleep’ which opens with some Albert King licks before he develops an impressive midway guitar solo that will please guitar loving folks out there. It gets heavy on the powerful sounding ‘Snuggle Up’ and the short instrumental ‘Jimmy’s Boogie’ is exactly what it says it is. 

The pace settles nicely into a lovely soulful outing that has the brass parping in all the right places on ‘Summer Sunrise’, which is a great track and which features a restrained and impressive guitar solo from Jim. ‘Pawn Shop Man’, a sorrowful tale of hardship due to gambling addiction is set to a relaxed semi-acoustic sound. ‘Lost My Mind’ starts off in honky tonk fashion before the song develops an infectious mid-tempo groove. 

The variety of music continues with the subtle soulfulness of ‘Up To Destiny’, a song that develops a head of steam as it progresses. ‘Tech Blues’ starts off in semi acoustic outing and then switches between that style and a mid-paced full band outing. There is, from the evidence of this disc, more to Jim than being a fine guitarist. His song writing skills are very good indeed and his willingness to adopt various musical styles from the blues heritage is impressive as well. It’s a fine album from a very talented artist. 

Mike Stephenson

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