And so here we are, past the effective 100 year anniversary of the blues idiom – if you reckon by W.C. Handy’s rise to prominence – and Vanguard Records’ 50th. To celebrate, Vanguard’s reissue department has compiled this handy little disc, chronicling five of their blues artists, spanning styles from the early Delta to the aftershocks of Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Mance Lipscomb is up first, with three tracks from his appearance at Newport in 1964. Although more uptown than many of his contemporaries, Lipscomb still played in the rural style after his “discovery” in 1960. Here, he provides rollicking accompaniment to his weary songs, sounding better in his 60’s than many “lost” bluesman of the 60s. He’s followed by Lightnin’ Hopkins, emphasizing the 50s electric urban sound. With four cuts from Newport ’65, he boogies to the max, although this is from the period where his playing style sounded more like John Lee Hooker with treble than the style he’s known for. Two of the four are previously unreleased, which ups the ante for this reissue. One of those tracks, “Where Can I Find My Baby?” is probably the best I’ve heard from this period of his career.
Up next is the Queen of the Blues, Big Mama Thorton, recorded in the studio and at a prison gig in 1975. She simply burns through the tracks, even if her band is a tad predictable at times. A hot take of “Rock Me Baby” is a real standout. Up next is a helping of Pee Wee Crayton, an artist I had heard of but never heard before. His slick 60s vibe helps to show that the blues are open to many interpretations. He nails the old Guitar Slim classic “Things I Used To Do,” and then ratchets things up with a particularly fine interpretation of “But On The Other Hand (Baby)” by Ray Charles. Although I’m more of an acoustic blues cat, I’m definitely tracking down more of Crayton’s stuff. Hey, I was weaned on Hound Dog Taylor, so I tend to be an electric blues snob.
The modern era is represented by Lee Roy Parnell, overplaying the white man’s blues. Another sincere artist, for sure, but his SRVisms and “new country” voice didn’t do much for me. His Santana homage “Right Where It Hurts” sounds particularly out of place with the rest of the tracks on this disc.
The remastered sound is fantastic throughout the disc, the liner notes are brief but thorough, and photos of the artists help complete the “introductory compilation” feel. Shame about the cover art: a painting of a longhorn in a field and a handheld armadillo against a highway backdrop, which invokes more of a country look to this disc – but it’s a cool painting in any case.
Compared to similar offerings by other labels, From Hell To Gone And Back provides a pretty broad overview of the genre, and a fairly consistent one at that. In this era of the cheap-buck blues compilations, Vanguard’s Texas Blues sounds like a labour of love. Definitely worth the price.
(Vanguard Records, 2002)