on 8 December 2001
This is one of the most hauntingly beautiful collections of blues I have ever heard. Skip James was a man of the Mississipi Delta and his music reflects his origins. The sound is sparse, the rhythms a melancholic mix of country, blues and ragtime. Over the top of deceptively simple arrangements for piano and acoustic guitar (to both of which James lends his distinctive sound), James' desolate falsetto recalls the deep sorrows of Depression-era black men with great poignancy.
While many of the songs on this collection at least superficially reflect the theme of lost love, there are darker moments too:
"Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" is a bleak and resigned commentary on the racial hatred and economic injustices faced by America's black poor in the 1930s; "Sick Bed Blues" explores the tragedy of a man alone.
Yet this CD is also infused with a real lightness of spirit: "... Hospital Center Blues" is a tribute to the musicians who rediscovered James in the 1960s and moved him to a private hospital so he could receive better treatment; and "Catfish Blues", with its refrain "I would rather be a little catfish/ so I could swim way down in the sea/ I wouldn't have no women/ setting out a line for me", is a refreshingly light fantasy of escape from impossible love.
The CD comprises recordings from the 1960s albums "Today!" and "Devil Got My Woman", so listeners don't have to cope with the appalling background hiss on re-releases of James' early Paramount sessions. Tracks 18 and 19 have never been previously released and are as brilliant as anything else on this incredible album.
Even if you have never heard of Skip James, you should check out this awesome collection of music from one of the Blues' truly great unsung masters.