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Customer Review

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flashes of brilliance, 24 April 2011
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This review is from: Fixin' To Die (Audio CD)
The music on this CD has been described as coming from the last great classic country blues recording session but already by the late thirties when this music was made, a gulf had opened up between the kind of legendary performances executed between the mid twenties and early thirties. By the time Bukka White entered the studio to make these tracks, the home-spun nature of the recording industry emerged from the Depression very much more commercial as well as savvy to the increasingly sophisticated tastes of the record buying public. As a consequence, I think the music is not quite as compelling as the efforts of an earlier generation of performers.

There are some great tracks on this disc. The first four numbers on this CD are fabulous and there are other gems like "Fixin' to die" which are pretty much essential too. I particularly like the spirited field recording "Po' Boy" which transcends the scratchy recording quality. At it's best, this music is brilliant as witnessed by "Shake 'em on down" and the wonderful "Special streamline." However, there is too little variety over the course of the 60 minutes of this disc and the gruff sound of White's voice is a case of a little goes a long way. The other downside is the use of a washboard which very much distracts from what is going on in the record - it almost feels like White was not confident about his time -keeping. This feels at odds with tracks like "Bukka' jitterbug swing" which reflects the then (1940) current dance craze. As someone who also prefers the picking style of guitar as championed by the likes of Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Willie McTell, I think the guitar playing is not quite of the same calibre as the more celebrated or even legendary players of the Blues. Clearly, White is not in the same league as Hurt or McTell and there is the faint air of the amateur about these records. The material is very similar to someone like Charlie Patten in the evocation of the poverty experienced by White's contemporaries and this is far more of a social commentary than anything else with reference made to many small, American towns which will be unfamiliar to those living outside of the periphery of the particular State. There are also quite a few references to trains.

I think there are moments of greatness on this CD and although I would acknowledge that Bukka White is highly considered in some quarters, there is a feeling of him having missed the boat in the pantheon of great country blues guitarists. He was almost 10-15 after his time. The "Complete Blues Series" are exceptional value for money and a great way of getting in to this music for a newcomer such as myself. I've got several of these in my collection and have been spell-bound by this music. This CD is pretty good but not quite up to the same standard as the two, aforementioned musicians nor Charlie Patten or Blind Lemon Jefferson for that matter. The sound quality is also a marked improvement from what you often get when you are a fan of vintage, country blues. I would recommend this disc but newcomers should perhaps go for the more famous names where, in my opinion, the primordial nature of the music has the greater clout. An interesting purchase never-the-less and the budget price allows you to explore for little more than a pint of beer.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Nov 2011, 17:22:25 GMT
From: Orestis Lindermayer (Athens, Greece)

I would agree. After 35 years of listening to blues vinyl records and cd, I can conclude my beloved Bukka... is NOT like Skip James, Big Joe Williams (with the Logan family or Shortstuff Macon), the Johnsons, Robert Pete Wiliams from Louisiana, Robert Wilkins (before the reverence), Hound Dog Taylor, Homesick James, Otis Rush, the great Elmo' etc. However, Bukka's "train" piece in SKY SONGS (with Big Willie Washboard) is one of those rare masterpieces that bring out the power of West African rhythm - and to this any djembe player can testify.

Best listening!

Posted on 15 Oct 2015, 10:35:58 BST
The Forgiven says:
It's ridiculous to state someone is not authentic purely because they were born later. Judge him on what he brings to the blues not the date on his birth certificate. If he is mediocre fine, then he his mediocre. People have for years dismissed Rachmaninov because he wrote what they thought was 19th century music, in the 20th century. Only now are they waking up to s style that could only belong in the early 20th century. The second generation of anything is just as important in development. If subsequent generations had not embraced the blues it would have died. Jack White would not have existed, wait a minute, just let me check Jack White's birth certificate to see whether I should like his music or not...

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Oct 2015, 17:26:40 BST
Ian Thumwood says:
Country Hoe

I was intrigued to read your comment as I never made a statement regarding White's authenticity but I think you make some salient points even though I would perhaps have to disagree with them.

I would really recommend that you read Elijah Weld's book "Escaping the delta" which clearly outlines the source of the blues and goes a long way to dismissing many of the ridiculous myths regarding the music. Having read this books since writing my review, I think popular trends within blues have been over-looked so that it is clear there was a form of evolution with male singers influenced by female blues shouters in the early 1920's such as Ma Rainey ( and not mysteriously evolving by their own volition independently) to lead to the likes of Patton, McTell, Hurt, etc, etc in the 1920's albeit blues were only part of the repertoire of these musicians. In the next decade, the music became more and more urbanised , firstly through the like of Leroy Carr and Big Bill Broonzy and ultimately in to the r n' b of the 1940's. If you take this chronology as a form of evolution, Bukka White's approach was already "retro" but so was Robert Johnson's.

I don't have a problem with this fact and can only concur with your opinion that music may be out of it's time and exceptionally good too. Having grown in to this music, I think I would rate Bukka White as more 4/5 , even if there is a similarity in the tracks and the issue of the washboard still remains prescient for me. That said, White's recordings do sound better with repeated listening even if some of the other guitarists I had mentioned probably had greater technical prowess. Trust that this clears the issue.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Dec 2015, 11:55:01 GMT
The Forgiven says:
I'm not that keen on Jack White to be honest. Document have a great mississippi blues volume 1 that showcases femail blues 'singers' from around 1930. The washboard is a fantastic instrument if played with imagination and should not just be used to keep time or imitate train sounds. I'm currently experimenting with various vacuum cleaners to imitate jet aircraft in my modern blues songs, with limited success. I'm trying to combine it with an electric kettle in my 'Russian jet fighter shot down in Syria blues' song, but can't find anything to rhyme with the line 'ejected over desolate ground', I've got writers block, but the blues lives on, if in adapted forms.
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