Paul Rishell with special guest Annie Raines
Mojo Rodeo Records
There were plenty of people who discovered blues music in the 1960's, gaining a life-long passion for this true American art-form. Some of these people were inspired to pick up instruments and learn how to play. Of the ones who settled on guitar, there weren't many willing to devote the long hours needed to master the instrument, playing at a level that allowed the musician to share the stage with legendary artists like Son House, Johnny Shines and Brownie McGhee. Even fewer had the skill and fortitude to make a career out of blues, first on electric guitar before migrating back to the acoustic format that initially captured their imagination.
This brief synopsis of Paul Rishell's career is a lead-in for his latest project, featuring Rishell's intricate picking on a bevy of songs from some of the greatest of the early blues pioneers. In the brief liner notes, Rishell references the music's importance in his life and offers this recording as a gateway for leading listeners back to the music's roots. Starting with Huddie Leadbetter's “Fannin' Street (Mr. Tom Hughes Town)”, he plays a hypnotic, percussive pattern that provides a contrasting backdrop to his warm vocal. Rishell's National Steel guitar rings out on Charley Patton's “Down the Dirt Road Blues” before pairing spell-binding picking with heavyhearted singing on Blind Lemon Jefferson's “One Dime Blues”. Another highlight occurs on “Special Rider Blues” as Rishell reaches into the falsetto range to capture the eerie quality of Skip James' original version. He delivers a nuanced performance on a tune from the obscure Clifford Gibson, “Tired of Being Mistreated”, his restrained vocal expertly mixing anguish and resignation.
Rishell shows his affinity for the work of Blind Boy Fuller by covering two of his tunes – his fingers weaving delicate, seamless rhythmic lines on “Weeping Willow Blues” while “Screamin and Cryin the Blues” benefits from Rishell's robust descriptive portrayal of a man dealt a losing hand. One of Rishell's originals, “Louise”, was included on the first recording under his name, Blues On a Holiday. Here it receives a spirited run-through powered by a toe-tapping pace.
Another selection from that album, Tommy Johnson's “Big Road Blues”, finds Annie Raines supplying impeccable fills on her harmonica with a rich, burnished tone. The duo has a musical partnership that has spanned two decades, so it's no surprise that they sound so comfortable together on another original, “I'm Gonna Jump and Shout”. They finish with “Michigan Water Blues”, trading articulate solos and giving us one final reminder of the enormous depths of emotion their music can create. The end result is an intimate celebration of the acoustic blues tradition and a noteworthy achievement in Paul Rishell's career.