Monday, February 1, 2010

Charley PATTON - The Definitive Charley Patton 2001

Charley PATTON - The Definitive Charley Patton 2001


The recordings of Charlie (Charley) Patton are among the most important and powerful blues recordings of the 20th century. Patton's extent sides, especially those recorded in 1929 - 30, show an artist with a booming voice and an intensely rhythmic but ever-shifting guitar style. His songs speak of rambling and restlessness, of weariness, of harassment from police and authority figures, drinking sprees, sexual potency, floods, crop disasters, the fear and imminence of death, and the desire for better days.
Those expecting to find another Robert Johnson in Patton's recordings will be disappointed, despite the frequent association made between Johnson and Patton in thumbnail histories of the era. In spite of their similarity as romantic, rambling figures, Johnson's music derived from the recordings of a disparate range of stylists, including Skip James, Son House, Tommy Johnson, Scrapper Blackwell, Lonnie Johnson, Kokomo Arnold, Hambone Willie Newbern, Johnnie Temple, Casey Bill Weldon, and Henry Thomas. Johnson's recordings are rhythmically more standard and streamlined than Patton's. His diction is clearer and his voice higher. The thematic concerns of the two musicians are similar, no doubt due to their similar lifestyles, but in Johnson's recordings, the Devil is an overt presence, while the Devil leaves little mark in Patton's recordings. Evil is manifest as natural disaster in Patton's world - boll weevils and floods - while in Johnson's world it is given tangible form and named Devil. While some of Johnson's showmanship was no doubt derived from Patton, their association is not as linear as one might think. Both musicians, for instance, had what are purported to vast repertoires of mostly-unrecorded non-blues-oriented material that they would perform for non-blues-oriented crowds. On the basis of the recorded evidence, it is hard to imagine either musician performing pop songs of the time, but seemingly they did. Just how these performances sounded is something that will remain a mystery, but it is likely that Johnson's and Patton's pop song arrangements sounded as different from each other as did their blues.

As one of the oldest blues musicians on record, much of Patton's repertoire dates from a time before blues was the rhythmically static and hidebound musical structure that would become in the hands of a number of lesser musicians than Patton into the 1930's. Patton's guitar accompaniments are showy and elaborate, kaleidoscopic in their ever-changing response to his vocals and their incessant re-articulation of the song's rhythm. His lyrics are very difficult to understand, a combination of an occasionally mush-mouthed delivery and crude recording processes.

Catfish's package is excellent. The three discs come packaged in cardboard sleeves printed to resemble old 78 paper record jackets. The three discs are enclosed in a heavy cardboard box. The 18-page booklet includes an informative essay, focusing on Patton's life and the circumstances of his recordings. Previously, the two Yazoo discs had been the Patton volumes to beat. Catfish includes the few titles not included on those discs, and all of the titles are in the finest sound quality - there is enough noise reduction to get a better sense of Patton's lyrics than before, but not so much as to deaden the sound or make the recordings sound artificial. The titles are arranged chronologically, with the exception that Patton's work as accompanist to the fiddler Henry Sims and his wife Bertha Lee are placed on disc three. One title that completists might quibble is missing from this set is "On the Wall," (onetime-Patton girlfriend) Louise Johnson's erotic piano ditty from the 1930 Grafton sessions, on which Patton and Son House (or possibly Willie Brown) interject with spoken commentary. But Patton's musical contribution to this title is minimal, and its' absence is not a real problem. A more glaring omission, and one the keeps this set from being definitive, is that it does not include the existing alternate takes of three titles from the 1929 Henry Sims session: "Hammer Blues," "Elder Greene Blues," and "Some These Days I'll Be Gone." The exclusion of these recordings is baffling and disappointing, marring an otherwise spectacular presentation of Patton's recordings. Presumably, there is some reason for this omission - it violates the titles claim to being the "definitive" edition, and is a real shame. The alternates can be found in best quality on Yazoo 2001, "King of he Delta Blues."

Patton's epochal titles such as the two-part "High Water Everywhere," the slide guitar drenched paean to cocaine, "Spoonful" (a very different precursor to the popular `60's rock recording by Cream of the same title), "Pony Blues" and "Pea Vine Blues," "Prayer of Death Pts. 1 and 2," and the four monumental titles recorded in 1930 with Willie Brown (of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads Blues" fame) on second guitar remain riveting and essential music, over seventy years after the recordings were first issued. The titles with Willie Brown are especially interesting - Brown was arguably a more nuanced, rhythmic and dexterous guitar player than Patton, and these duets with Patton add to Brown's very small (two incredible commercial recordings from 1930, a few 1940's Library of Congress recordings) discography. They are sterling examples of pre-war blues, and deserve greater exposure than they have enjoyed.

The 1934 recordings presented on disc three show Patton in a slight decline, after having his throat slit in a 1933 fight. The years of chasing women and drinking and snorting cocaine had worn Patton down. His guitar playing became more listless and less intricate (though still at a very high standard), and his voice became rougher, his vocal range diminished. Patton died about three months after making his 1934 recordings, of a heart condition. His final recordings, while not in the same brilliant league as his 1929 - 30 recordings, are a monument to his lifetime of song and entertainment, a testament to a life better spent making music than making end's meat on a plantation.
By Francis Flannery.
Disc: 1 
01. Mississippi Boweavil Blues
02. Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues
03. Down the Dirt Road Blues
04. Pony Blues
05. Banty Rooster Blues
06. It Won't Be Long
07. Pea Vine Blues
08. Tom Rushen Blues
09. Spoonful Blues
10. Shake It and Break It (But Don't Let It Fall Mama)
11. Prayer of Death, Pt. 1
12. Prayer of Death, Pt. 2
13. Lord, I'm Discouraged
14. I'm Goin' Home
15. Going to Move to Alabama
16. Elder Greene Blues
17. Circle Round the Moon
18. Devil Sent the Rain Blues
19. Mean Black Cat Blues
20. Frankie and Albert
Disc: 2 
01. Some These Days I'll Be Gone
02. Green River Blues
03. Hammer Blues
04. Magnolia Blues
05. When Your Way Gets Dark
06. Heart Like Railroad Steel
07. Some Happy Day
08. You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die
09. Jim Lee Blues, Pt. 1
10. Jim Lee Blues, Pt. 2
11. High Water Everywhere, Pt. 1
12. High Water Everywhere, Pt. 2
13. Jesue Is a Dying-Bed Maker
14. I Shall Not Be Moved
15. Rattlesnake Blues
16. Running Wild Blues
17. Joe Kirby
18. Mean Black Moan
19. Dry Well Blues
20. Some Summer Day, Pt. 1

Disc: 3 
01. Moon Going Down
02. Bird Nest Bound
03. Jersey Bull Blues
04. High Sheriff Blues
05. Stone Pony Blues
06. 34 Blues
07. Love My Stuff
08. Revenue Man Blues
09. Oh Death
10. Troubled 'Bout My Mother
11. Poor Me
12. Hang It on the Wall
13. Farrell Blues
14. Come Back Corrina
15. Tell Me Man Blues
16. Be True Be True Blues
17. Yellow Bee
18. Mind Reader Blues
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