A few blues notes that keep floating around my troubled mind:
Goodbye Jimmy Reed
The new Bob Dylan album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” is not really a blues album, but a lot of Dylan’s work has been inspired by and infused with the blues. I think it’s an excellent album, a showcase for Dylan’s still-sharp word and image play. But I have to confess that my favorite cut on the album is the pounding, bluesy, “Goodbye Jimmy Reed.” I also think it’s one of the best on the album, as Dylan releases his playful inner wordsmith, full of crisp imagery and snarling musicality. Alas, there seems to be no video version, but here’s the song in its finest audio, the way music was meant to be heard! And Jimmy Reed is still one of the best.
Do Klingons get the blues?
I’m a little late with this one, but you’ve probably already added this new release to your collection, since it goes where where not much blues has gone before. I’m talking, of course, about William Shatner’s latest album (yes, he’s recorded a bunch), of blues songs. It’s called “The Blues,” and it’s another of Shatner’s spoken word albums. Well, Shatner is 89, and it’s about time he got around to America’s classical music, but it’s not exactly out of this world. He did get himself a good backing band and guest artists, though. But somebody, please, just beam him up.
Defining the blues
Every once in a while, over the years, someone would ask me to define the blues. I always stumbled around for an answer, and then I stumbled upon a definition that finally satisfied me. It’s by author Giles Oakley, and from the foreword of the second edition of his book, “The Devil’s Music: A History of the Blues.” It reads: “To some extent the blues negotiate the tensions between opposition to the status quo, accommodation to it, and transcendence of it through the joy of sensual release.” Yes, what he said.
Speaking of the history of the blues (I hope you paid attention to the last item), I’m a big fan of blues history, and historical blues figures. That’s why I was happy to find recently a video from 1978 of one of the earliest Delta blues players (although in those days they often played from a wide and varied repertoire). It’s Sam Chatmon, born Vivian Chatmon in 1897, a solo performer, and then well known as a member of the Mississippi Sheiks. He outlived many of his contemporaries, and recorded again in the folk-blues era of the 1960s and ‘70s. Here’s a sample.