Robert Johnson "King of the Delta Blues Singers" (Music On Vinyl, 1961-1970/2013)
Throughout successive generations, guitar players who’ve wanted to align themselves, especially, with the pre-war blues scene have looked to one name in particular, Robert Johnson. OK, sure there were a good few others too, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Son House readily jump to mind, however, none would strike the imagination more strongly than that of Robert Johnson, whose reverence, partly due to an enigmatic and mercurial persona, is forever assured and second to none in the world of blues, rock and beyond. Also, something of the simplistic yet unduplicable nature of many of his songs is another facet of why this true blues pioneer was, and still is, such an attraction with a strangely magnetic pull on music lovers – guitar players perhaps especially?
Mississippi-born Johnson’s highly-individual style of playing and singing, heard here on a catalogue of intensely captivating songs, is, I would say, beyond compare. Like many blues wailers down the years Johnson’s songs dealt with internal strife and women-centred turmoil alongside the twin spectres of alcohol and violence, which seemed seemed to compound Johnson’s life in song.
One is being constantly reminded while listening to this latest set of remasters (that made up the original first volume of King Of The Delta Blues Singers) of the immense power inherent in such songs as ‘Hellhound On My Trail’, ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’, the indefatigable ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ and many more pure and unsullied classics besides. The performances, seemingly effortless most of the time, flow out again and again, the button on the primitive tape device pressed to record, thus capturing for all time a succession of truly unbelievable sounds. That’s why the likes of the ‘Stones, Clapton and Zeppelin were in awe! Moreover, and this far down the line too – seventy-odd years or thereabouts – most of these selections still cannot be matched, either for the qualities already outlined above, or for the highly-charged atmosphere which they bring to any room that cares to air them. The sheer quality and gut-wrenching emotion within Johnson’s vocal alone is indefinable, and hard to beat, but when you add in his trailblazing guitar technique that sits atop or underneath then the combinatory results become absolutely peerless.
As the technology (and the skills of the technicians) put in place to rediscover and re-evaluate many of these ancient old blues recordings gets better; and to be able to hear, say, the closeness of a particular piece of slide action, or a partly hidden vocal nuance, or other subtlety that was maybe a little lost in some previously issued edition that, perhaps, has now become much clearer; without losing any of the edge, grit and downright primitive genius of what sourced it, then yeah, that’s also cause for celebration. I suppose one of the main purposes in making newly available reissues of such as these unforgettable Robert Johnson recordings, is (as with everything else) to try to turn on new generations of people to what are, in Robert Johnson’s case anyway, incredible, and fearsomely important works.
It only remains to say that if you don’t already have like one or two of the K.O.T.D.B.S. variations that were issued donkeys years ago on CBS (or more recently on CD), then I heartily recommend running out and scoring this brand new one if you can. You’ll be sure glad you did.
Review made by Lenny Helsing/2014
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