on 1 March 2009
Soul of a Man
If you are new to blues music, listen to this.
If you are an experienced listener, listen to this.
I believe "Dark was the night cold was on the ground" was put on a disc by NASA and sent out into the cosmos. If those in the know feel that this music is a fitting way to represent man to any alien life forms surely the least you can do is buy this CD. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. Be warned though the intensity of "You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond" can cause grown men to weep.
Blind Willie Johnson's life started and ended in tragic circumstances. Blinded when a young boy in an incident in which his stepmother threw lye (a corrosive alkaline substance) into his eyes as a result of catching his father with another woman. And dying in 1947 aged only 45, from pneumonia as a consequence of lying destitute in the ashes of his home in Beaumont, Texas for several days following its burning down, having been refused a hospital bed because he was blind.
His voice sounded like a man possessed and his guitar playing that was nothing short of sensational miraculous, often juxtaposing his singing as he plays beautiful fluid melodies on the higher register as his voice howls over the top, almost as if to contrast heaven with hell.
It is not a happy genre of music on this recording but it is crammed full of gutsy, earthy, gravelly spiritual blues sounds, among which I particularly liked "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed & Burning", "Dark Was The Night", "Let Your Light Shine On Me", and "It's Nobody's Fault But Mine".
A haunting but most enjoyable listening experience.
on 6 November 2012
What an interesting character, and what an interesting sound. It took me a couple of listens to notice that Johnson deliberately used two different singing voices: a normal, quite graceful one and a deep, growly gravelly 'Exorcist' one. He does some songs in each, and on one or two he swaps between them (that's how I know it's deliberate and not just age or a frog in the throat). I can't say the second voice appeals to me that much; fortunately many of the tracks also feature an uncredited, but very fetching, female singer. Johnson's wife - unless it's Johnson again, double-tracking himself? (Only joking.)
Even where grace is lacking though, there is always intensity. And then there's his guitar playing; Johnson must have been one of the greatest slide players ever, somehow contriving to play the melody, accompany himself and sing all at once.
Most of the tracks are religiously or spiritually orientated; in fact you might call some of them Gospel rather than Blues. A lot of Brits have a hard time with that aspect of American folk music, inescapable though it is, and it's really the only reason I can see why Johnson isn't as celebrated in muso circles as his namesake Robert. But it would be a shame if listeners of the strict 'ma dawg wuz dead' school allowed themselves to be put off. Essentially this is music of faith, hope and defiance of the odds - contrasting with the bleak despair evoked by Robert - and you don't have to be religious to relate to that. Led Zeppelin certainly didn't think so: their In My Time of Dying and Nobody's Fault but Mine both took their inspiration from Johnson songs.
If the object of music, ultimately, is to help you carry that weight, then Blind Willie Johnson has the goods.
on 25 July 2010
This music is so potent that it is difficult to take as a whole. It is like eating an extremely rich fruit cake in one sitting. There are tracks on this CD like "Trouble soon be over", "Soul of a man" and "Dark was the night" that pack an emotional punch well beyond some of the more accepted giants of country blues and feature some wonderful slide guitar playing. These are absolutely essential listening. I was amazed by some of the lyrics too, with references to the sinking of the Titanic, the First World War and Spanish flu which suggests the slightly older origins of the compositions.
I think that this music is very different from some of the contemporary country blues artists as the material is often not so much a social commentary of the times but an intense religious experience. This is the main issue with Johnson for me. Most of the tunes, in fact, have a religious theme and are not necessairly blues albeit they are played in the most authentic blues style you could imagine. Try something like gospel classic "John the revelator" which is almost primeval in it's interpretation. For me, the fact that religion is such a component of this music detracts from it's power and, compared to masters like Blind Willie McTell, Blind Blake or Robert Johnson, Blind Willie is not such an accomplished guitarist. Those tracks where Johnson's voice has been eroded down to a rough, gravelly sound certainly will make the hairs on your neck stand on end.
All told, I found this CD to be extremely powerful. Excellent sound on this CD too. Recommended.
on 8 January 2007
This man sings from the depths of his soul. The duets with his wife and the slide guitar on this album are sublime. Eric Clapton said 'Dark was the night...' was the best slide guitar he'd ever heard.
Willie's confidence in Jesus Christ his saviour saturate this CD making this truely timeless music.
on 15 May 2007
A fantastic CD full of haunting tunes and wonderful vocals. My other half and I like nothing better than to put this on of an evening. This is the blues as it should be.
on 28 October 2012
My favourite bluesman by a distance. His frightening throaty roar duetting with the sweetness & light of Willie B Richardson is almost schizophrenic , like acid moving alongside honey. his recordings were the epitome of the deepest soul music in the line of spiritual blues. This is the sound of a man exposed , begging on judgement day. Oh yes, and his slide guitar is exquisite also. Burning soul indeed!
on 25 January 2016
This is a fantastic collection, showcasing one of the best country bluesmen to ever walk the Earth. His slide playing is unmatched to this day, and his singing voice would occasionally rival some heavy metal singers today in terms of it's ferocity.
I must admit, after hearing Kurtis Stigers and the Forest Rangers' cover of "John The Revelator" at the end of season 1 of Sons of Anarchy, it's quite jarring to hear how so very different the original is, both in terms of arrangement and lyrics as well. Well, I say original - the song itself is a traditional one. But by all accounts, Johnson was the first to make a blues record of it, and it's still one of the standout tracks here. The female vocal accompaniment by Willie B. Richardson on tracks such as "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" and "The Soul of a Man" also serve to add a fetching gentle contrast to Johnson's all-out rasp.
This is impassioned blues music, and it's music that deserves to not just be heard but felt.
on 11 December 2012
If you like old blues/ gospel, this is a really great collection of songs. Good quality sound too, considering the age of the recordings.
on 4 April 2015
If you have friends or family who don't 'get' the blues, play them this. It makes most other popular music sound bland and facile. This is without compromise or embellishment. Humbling.