I’ve never been a particularly big blues fan, at least not so far as traditional blues goes (as opposed to blues rock). My father-in-law is though, and we spent many an evening sitting on his driveway after dinner having drinks, smoking cigars, and listening to blues tapes, so that’s what I always think of when I hear the blues.
The Rough Guide to East Coast Blues consists of a dozen old school blues tracks that originated from the Piedmont region, a style that differs a bit from that of the more frequently referred to Delta blues from the deep south. All the performances date from the 1920s and 1930s, so while the mastering and production did an excellent job in cleaning up the sound, the songs still retain a certain old-timey feel. We’re talking about songs that were all performed in one continuous take using a process that is basically the exact reverse of playing a record, instead cutting groves into a master. When you think about that, it makes the quality of these recordings that much more impressive.
In listening to this album I’m reminded of a couple of contemporary bands I truly enjoy – Hillstomp and Devil Makes Three. Certainly both have a much faster paced style than the old school bluesmen, but the influences are certainly there to be heard. The influence of the blues on rock is unquestionable, and while it may not be as truly a uniquely American musical style the way jazz is, it is a heavily Americanized version of traditional folk, one influenced by geography and ethnicity, and how those things interacted.
The A side consists of what I think of as more traditional blues – limited instrumentation and a soulful singer. The B side gives a few more uptempo, almost poppy kind of numbers like “Mama, Let Me Scoop for You” by Blind Willie McTell. Not being any kind of blues expert myself, I’m not sure how these two different styles fit together, though I’ll admit the inclusion of these bouncier tunes gives a bit of extra flavor to the collection.
I give the Music Rough Guides label a lot of credit for the quality of The Rough Guide to East Coast Blues. The overall quality is excellent, the notes on the jacket reverse are informative, and it includes a download card. And for around $15, that’s a pretty solid value.