Andy Cohen has been playing older music styles on guitar, piano, dolceola and assorted instruments for several decades now and has a number of recordings over the year. His latest disc is “Built Right On The Ground,” on Earwig which ranges from stomping boogie woogie, Reverend Gary Davis influenced guitar rags, Memphis Minnie songs and a Woody Guthrie talking blues. On several tracks his is joined by his wife, Larkin Bryant on vocals and mandolin, or Kurt Anderson on vocal and guitar. As William Lee Ellis observes, “He had certainly been every bit the standard-bearer if not an outright genius when it comes to the interpretation of prewar blues and gospel music."
And what a choice of songs starting from the opening title track which was recorded eighty odd years ago from Blind Teddy Darby that captures the flavor of the original recording but with his deft picking and wonderfully delivered vocal comes out as his own. His updating of Sam McGee’s old-timey blues, “Railroad Blues,” features impressive picking along with an amusing lyric about voting for Obama because his mama told him to. I wonder how many who do their flashy Robert Johnson covers could do such a nice rendition of Henry Spaulding’s “Cairo Blues,” which is wonderfully paced and as well as sung. There is a credible, if hardly spectacular, rendition of Meade Lux Lewis’ “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” which illustrates his versatility as a musician. Cohen especially is adept at numbers that features fingerpicking in the vein of the Piedmont tradition, but also he is able to channel the facile, rhythmic playing of a Furry Lewis and Memphis Minnie as displayed on his interpretation of “Soo Cow Soo.” On “Jim Dickinson Stomp,” dedicated to the late musician and producer, he plays some lovely guitar in the Memphis style as well as the dolceola, followed by the sentimental Jimmie Rodgers tune “My Old Pal,” where Kurt Anderson takes the vocal (and the two collaborate on another Rodgers sentimental tune, “Miss the Mississippi and You”). “Temptation Rag,” was a piano piece (also recorded by reed players, Sidney Bechet and Benny Goodman), that gets a lovely and adept, guitar treatment in the manner of Gary Davis, which Cohen also gives Jelly Roll Morton’s “Grandpa’s Spells.” There is also a jaunty take on Big Bill Broonzy’s “Mopper Blues.” He returns to piano for a lively “Shake-a-You-Boogie,” which he learned from Blind Jim Brewer, “Shake a Boogie” (which likely was derived from John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson, and “Too Fat Boogie”). Cohen treats us with the amusing Woody Guthrie “Mean Talkin’ Blues,” before he and his wife (who is on mandolin) close out this CD with a marvelous rendering of the late Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues.”
I agree with William Lee Ellis that in a perfect world, Andy Cohen would be as famous as Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. “Built Right On The Ground,” showcases not simply how good a player he is and the extensiveness of his repertoire, but also the warmth and genuineness of his vocals. This recording is a must for lovers of acoustic and traditional blues.
This review has appeared in Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 327, July 2010) and the review copy was provided by the firm doing publicity for Earwig Records releases.