An Expat Life: Nicaragua Blues and Ruse
Monday, April 2, 2007
Monday Morning Blues #3
This week, I'd like to share my thoughts about perhaps the best Blues album in my whole collection.....Atlanta Twelve String by Blind Willie McTell. Not only are these 1948 recordings absolute masterpieces, they were issued on a short-lived Atlantic Records venture, assuring impeccable recording quality.
Thanks to Bob Dylan's 1980s ode, I discovered McTell's music a decade or so ago. Born in Thomson, Georgia at the turn of the century, Willie bounced around Georgia, busking and recording under various aliases for over 30 years, leaving several quality recordings in his wake for posterity. Amongst them, Atlanta Twelve String stands out as the definitive session.
Tuned ultra-low, at times, his E goes all the way down to Ab, McTell pairs his distinct voice with an expertly played Stella 12-string. McTell, blind early in childhood, was known to travel New York City alone, guided by an incredible memory. This capacity serves him well in his music, as he effortlessly weaves in and out of the American songbag....boogie woogie, gospel, blues, folk...it's all here.
Of special note, Dying Crapshooter Blues stands out, with its healthy dose of gallows humor and card-playing metaphors of death. Personally, I enjoy the breadth of themes, bouncing from somber Son House-esque songs of the 'the cooling board' to the playful 'Kill It Kid'. McTell's range of storytelling is quite impressive, encompassing mortality, poverty, urban prosperity, and religion....all equally believable. Of all of his recordings, this one finds him in prime form. In prior recordings for John and Alan Lomax, in the 1920s-30s, he covers a wider range of music, yet this one captures the essence of Georgia blues.
Like Tommy Johnson before, McTell died in the 1950s, not living to see the great revival of their music a short time later in the 1960s. Interestingly, McTell recorded a Last Session in 1956, shortly before his death, which was said to have been recorded by an astute owner of a liquor store that he frequented in the Atlanta area. In subsequent years, the White Stripes, Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, among others, have covered his music. For example, if you listen to Dylan's World Gone Wrong, McTell's influence oozes out. At any rate, check out McTell's music when you can. You will thank me.