Saturday, January 13, 2007
Arcola Records is a small label out of Seattle that has been building a very interesting catalog of downhome blues focusing on previously unissued recordings by significant stylists in older blues traditions. One of the recent additions to the catalog is the late Henry Townsend’s The Real St. Louis Blues. Townsend, who when he died had probably the lengthiest career on record in blues history, first recording in 1929 and recording in the 21st Century. In the pre-World War 11 era played (and recorded) with many legends including James ‘Stump’ Johnson, Lonnie Johnson, Henry Spaulding, Roosevelt Sykes, Walter Davis, Charlie Jordan, John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson and Big Joe Williams and his recording career extended from 1929 to the 21st Century and developed a distinctive style on both guitar and piano.
The recordings on this set derive from recordings that Arcola’s Bob West produced in August, 1979 at Henry’s home in St. Louis (and West playing second guitar on a couple tracks) and a Baldwin Piano Store in the city, and provide a pretty fair representation of Townsend as a bluesman displaying his rhythmic driving guitar and deep alley piano style matched with his doleful vocals. His style gives his rendition of Jesse Baby Face Thomas’ You’ll Never Find Another Man Like Me, titled here as Can’t You See (and credited to Henry) a bit more somber in its tone. His piano blues feature a steady bass and thundering right hand runs and complement his somber singing on Mercy, a take on a traditional blues theme; So Long, So Long, a somber goodbye song; Sad Story, a minor key blues, reminiscent of Walter Davis, that is a marvelous piece of blues storytelling as his woman says she is going away; and Let Her Go, a marvelous performance in the vein of St. James Infirmary as if Walter Davis sang it. Crying Won’t Make Me Stay (one of the songs on which West seconded Townsend) brings together the going down the big road blues theme with going and his woman’s crying won’t make him stay, which Townsend’s plaintive vocal delivers so convincingly. This is a marvelous collection of blues performances and absolutely recommended to fans of acoustic blues, although this reviewer recognizes that Townsend’s sober and thoughtful approach to the blues won’t be to everyone’s taste. Arcola should be available from better online retailers if one cannot locate this material in stores.
Here is a link to Henry's wikipedia entry