Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blues Mandolin Man: The Life and Music of Yank Rachell reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Blues Mandolin Man: The Life and Music of Yank Rachell
Yank Rachell
Blind Pig Records
9 tracks/36:28

The mandolin is a very unique blues instrument but it is also an essential part of the blues. Some people like it, some people hate it and others just find it annoying. I think that a lot of blues fans just do not know about mandolins and its presence in the blues scene. Among the early and most notable mandolin players in the 1920’s – 30’s were Johnny Young, Charlie McCoy, Howard Armstrong, Willie Hatcher and of course Hank Rachell. The new players now are Rich Del Grosso, Billy Flynn and Gerry Hundt to name a few.

Blind Pig Records release of “Blues Mandolin Man” on CD for the first time presents us with a real piece of blues history. This recording was first released in 1990 as a record album. Rachell plays his style of mandolin and sings on all the tunes on this recording. Yank’s granddaughter, Sheena Rachel, plays some really awesome though out the CD. On drums is the very capable Leonard Marsh Jr. You must keep your ears open and catch his drum solos. Also joining the rhythm section is Peter Roller on both the acoustic and electric guitar. Peter “Madcat” Ruth treats us to some very fine harmonica licks on two of the tunes.

Yank Rachell started his blues career in the late 1920’s. Somewhere in the 40’s he took a long break from the music scene. In the late 1960’s Yank returned to perform again until he passed away in 1997 at the age of 87. Yank teamed up with Sleepy John Estes for quite a period of time. This pairing was a great combination. Some of this music can be found on You Tube and is really a treat to see and hear. He also performed with Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry and Taj Mahal to name a few.
This CD, “Blues Mandolin Man” features 9 songs written by Yank Rachell. The lyrics are really outstanding and tell stories about true life blues. One of Yank’s statements is “I’ve had the blues so long that they became the blacks”. Rachell’s vocals are raspy, to the point and very distinctive. The quality of his voice, to me, is a pumped up version of Sleepy John Estes.
“My Baby’s Gone “ is the opening tune for this collection of Yank Rachell songs. This is a very good tune which shows off the interplay between the mandolin and the guitar. Listening to this tune lets us discover Yank’s improvisational style of blues mandolin. He takes a unique approach as he ventures along the frets of his mandolin. Sheena Rachell’s base line can really be appreciated on “My Baby’s Gone”.

“Cigarette Blues” features Yank Rachell on mandolin and Peter Roller on the acoustic guitar. Joining these two we have Peter “Madcat” Ruth playing some really outstanding harmonica licks for us. We get to hear some real wailing and moaning from “Madcat” on this tune. Pay attention to Rachell’s mandolin solo on this track. This tells us what he is all about. This tune is the tale of his lady dying from smoking 12 packs of cigarettes a day. This is the blues.
Yank Rachell is not only a major part of blues mandolin history; he is also a blues treasure that we should all discover. If you are not familiar with mandolin blues, Yank Rachell’s “Blues Mandolin Man” is a good place to start learning about them.

Reviewed by Harmonica Joe

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