KTRU Corner: Classic Appalachian Blues

KTRU Corner: Classic Appalachian Blues
Miguel Quirch
The Rice Thresher

It's not every day that one comes across a compilation of blues music spanning back to the 1940s. Classic Appalachian Blues is a collection of relatively unknown blues works from an area not typically known for the genre. Though the popular conception is that Appalachia primarily features country music to the general exclusion of African-American musical styles, Classic Appalachian Blues shows that this is not the case.

The album features a great variety of blues expressions and instrumentation by harmonica, bass guitar, piano, fiddle, mandolin and, of course, guitar. This guitar differs from standard blues style and adopts a faster tempo. The music in general is more fast-paced than traditional blues and lends itself well to the numerous harmonica/guitar duets featured in several of the songs, such as Sticks McGhee's "My Baby's Gone." The album features much softer, more melodic tones than I anticipated, and would make great background music for parties.

The endearing album's highlights include "You Don't Know My Mind" by Pink Anderson, "Wine Blues (Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee)" by Sticks McGhee and "Hoodoo Blues" by Martin, Bogan and Armstrong.

"You Don't Know My Mind" features great guitar work and soulful vocals from Anderson. The rhythm is masterful and a testament to the track's historical importance. Keep your ears peeled for the song's key line: "You don't know my mind; you see me laughing, I'm laughing to keep from crying." (A bit of trivia: Anderson's work was so influential that Pink Floyd drew "Pink" from his name.)

McGhee changes the pace with a proto-rock-and-roll track in "Wine Blues." The song was released in 1947 but maintained popularity through the '50s, no doubt due to its catchy clapping, sing-along nature. The harmonica renders the song especially memorable and provides a fun background beat with the vocals.

"Hoodoo Blues" draws from the expertise of a trio of exceptional artists to play one of the slower, more deliberate-sounding blues tracks on the album. The lyrical mandolin in particular complements the beat-oriented bass nicely. Carl Martin's powerful vocals solidify the blues vibe, helping make "Hoodoo Blues" one of the stronger tracks on the album.

KTRU has a particular interest in underexposed and historic recordings, providing listeners with an opportunity for them to hear obscure recordings. From that respect, and given the superb musical quality of the album, Classic Appalachian Blues makes an excellent addition to the KTRU music library.
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