Saturday, February 17, 2007

Drink House to the Church House: Vol. One- Various Artists reviewed by Steve Jones

Drink House to the Church House: Vol. One
Various Artists
Music Maker Relief Foundation (CD & DVD)
11 tracks/79:57 (CD)
4 extended tracks (DVD)

Tim Duffy and the Music Maker Relief Foundation are just plain wonderful. I love the Music Maker Foundation on several levels. I love what they do to promote and support undiscovered blues artists. I also love what they have done and continue to do to raise money for New Orleans relief. Lastly, I just love the music they discover and then record for posterity and for us to enjoy.

The set features Captain Luke, Macavine Hayes, Whistlin’ Britches, Little Freddie King, Alabama Slim, John Dee Holeman, and Bishop Dready Manning & Family. There is a 20 page booklet included with the set that has a biography of each artist. The CD has 11 tracks and the DVD contains over an hour of music and interviews with each of the artists.

This compilation takes us from the modern version of the juke joint to the church, sampling the music made by men and women who range from nearly destitute and desperate to those spiritually saved. Whether it’s Bishop Dready Manning getting down and holy on the “Gospel Train” or Macavine Hayes’ “Snatch that Thing” getting down and dirty, we get a glimpse of how American roots music is still alive and getting down to it.

The last track features Haskell “Whistlin’ Britches” Thompson. Born in 1944, he hails from a long line of clickers. Instead of singing, he makes clicking sounds, sort of like an old wind up clock, but with more synchopation. It’s unique and addictive.

Little Freddie King now hails from and has played at every Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Born in McComb, Mississippi (Bo Diddley’s birthplace), he is a long time patriarch of the blues guitar. He and his cousin Milton Frazier (Alabama Slim) spent a long time playing and drinking together. Freddie worked his way through the booze earlier than Slim, but now both are enjoying a renaissance with Music Maker. Freddie’s “I Don’t Know What to Do” is an original tune but hearkens back to the Delta, as does his cousin’s song, “The Might Flood.” Slim moved to New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy in 1965, so he is no stranger to nature’s devastating ways. His song is an eerie tale of the damage done to the Crescent City two years ago.

Traditional songs like “John Henry” exist in the traditional American song catalogue. 2006 saw Bruce Springsteen revive songs like this, and here we have John Dee Holeman giving us his interpretation of this classic. His guitar and vocal work are superb. He has received a number of grants and accolades for his work, and we get a great glimpse of his talents with on this song.

The DVD is a nifty add on to the set. We get to first meet Captain Luke, Macavine Hayes and Haskell Thompson, along with Cool John Ferguson, jamming and hanging out together. The old bluesmen take turns in the lead; whether it was Captain Luke belting out in his deep bass voice, Haskell clicking away, or Macavine playing guitar and singing in his deeply accented high pitched voice we are being treated to what has been happening in the Piedmont for a hundred years or more.

In the second part of the DVD, Bishop Dready and his family put on a show in their church; all of them get to showcase their blues/gospel talents. Dready sings and plays guitar and harmonica; his wife has a profound voice and sings many of the tunes while his sons play drums and bass.

Cousins Little Freddie and Alabama Slim are fully duded out in some cool suits and aptly display the Mississippi Delta styled musical skills that they have honed for years in New Orleans. This third vignette is a lot slicker than the first two since these guys have been playing in public for decades.

Last up is John Dee Holeman. We are treated to his finger picking on both a National steel and solid bodied electric guitar. His fingers seem to breeze over the strings. He is a fantastic talent.

I loved this set. We see what the blues was and still is. If you are looking for slick productions and high-tech studio work, this is not your cup of tea. If you like the real blues as they sound in people’s homes and in local places, this is your music. Thanks must go out to Tim Duffy for producing this wonderful stuff, keeping this rare music alive and recording it so it will be remembered. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second volume to the set! If you like real blues, Music Maker has got them for you!

No comments: