Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blues Guitar Women reviewed by Mark Thompson

Blues Guitar Women
Various Artists
Ruf Records
Disc 1 – 15 tracks/67:20
Disc 2 – 14 tracks/49:33

This collection has a number of things to offer to serious Blues fans. To start, it is divided into two discs: Contemporary and Traditional Blues Women. Together the 29 tracks show the universal appeal of Blues music. The musicians range in age from teenagers to ninety-plus years. One is from Canada (Sue Foley), another from Yugoslavia (Ana Popovic) and a third from that Blues hotspot, Finland (Erja Lyytinen)!!! Some are household names while others barely escaped obscurity.

Their styles cover the entire spectrum from the quiet elegance of Etta Baker’s Piedmont–style playing through the juke-joint for the Mississippi hill style of Jessie Mae Hemphill, moving on to the hard rockin’ contemporary style of a new group, the Lara Price Band featuring Laura Chavez on guitar. These ladies burn through a version of Buddy Guy’s “Can’t Quit the Blues” to open the first disc in fine style. Next comes Debbie Davies with plenty of always fine playing on the humorous “Takin’ it All to Vegas”. Another newcomer to the scene is Erja Lyytinen. She updates the Elmore James slide-guitar style on “Dreamland Blues”. If the rest of her forthcoming US release sounds this good, look out!!!!! Other highlights include veteran Barbara Lynn showing her considerable skills on the instrumental “Lynn’s Blues” and a duet by Maria Muldaur & Bonnie Raitt accompanied only by Raitt’s slide guitar. They take you to church with the gospel standard “It’s a Blessing”.

The second disc features mostly acoustic Blues with two artists associated with the Music Maker Relief Foundation starting it off. Precious Byrant offers a jaunty take on “Fool Me Good” while Algia Mae Hinton proves she has not lost her ability to sing or pick the guitar at seventy-plus years young. The real bonus on this disc is the last four tracks. The closing number comes from Memphis Minnie, one of the first Blues women to achieve fame through her recordings. It is said that Minnie could play as well as any man in addition to belting out impassioned vocals, as you hear on “In My Girlish Days”.

The other three cuts are from Mattie Delaney, Elvie Thomas and Geechie Wiley. If these names aren’t familiar, don’t worry about it. Each woman recorded several songs and then disappeared into history. Nothing is known about them except for the records they made. I was particularly excited to hear Wiley again. I had heard another track by her several years ago that was outstanding. She starts “Skinny Legs Blues” with a booming guitar lick before singing about sex and death in a voice that still resonates with emotion.

The set includes a full-color booklet pictures and brief biographies of most of the women. Ruf has put together a strong package that runs the gamut of the Blues spectrum. The two discs contain a wealth of Blues that will appeal to the new fan or the veteran listener. Make sure to grab a copy of this one!!!!

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