Tuesday, March 15, 2011

John Jackson's Superb Piedmont Blues

I was at John Jackson’s last performance on New Year’s Eve, 2001 as part of the City of Falls Church Virginia’s annual celebration. Alternating sets with an old time string band, John was his usual warm self and the vigor of his performances belied the fact that he would soon go into the hospital for treatment for cancer. Less than three weeks later he passed and the church where his funeral was held was full of his many friends, some who came from great distances to pay their respects to a wonderful musician but also one of the most wonderful persons one could ever meet. In the release of Jackson’s music, Rappahannock Blues, Smithsonian Folkways, the late Piedmont blues master is lovingly represented by 20 selections (18 previously unissued) that demonstrate his marvelous finger style playing, his untutored vocals and the warmth of his personality that comes out through the nearly hour of music here.

The performances, taken at various performances represent the breadth of his repertoire that extend from his interpretations of songs associated with his main influence, Blind Blake (
Too Tight Rag, Diddy Wah Diddy,” and West Coast Rag); standards of the Piedmont tradition such as Blind Boy Fuller’s Truckin’ Little Baby, and Step it Up and Go, along with Red River Blues; adaptations of country songs such as Tom T. Hall’s The Year Clayton Delaney Died, and the Delmore Brothers Brown’s Ferry Blues; and traditional songs and ballads like Cindy (played on banjo), and Railroad Bill. Also included are religious songs like Don’t You Want to Go Up There, and Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and Jackson’s adaptation of Candy Man, from his friend Mississippi John Hurt.

Frankie and Johnny has been performed numerous times by numerous folk, but listening to Jackson’s vocal and his nimble and precise picking, is like listening to this number afresh. Perhaps no better demonstration of John Jackson’s superb guitar playing is John Jackson Breakdown, a brilliant guitar tour de force that is proof that he was amongst the greats of the Piedmont style guitarists, and was on the same level as Blind Blake and Reverend Gary Davis. For further proof, one can listen to his sterling recreation of Blind Blake’s West Coast Rag with which this album closes.

There were only six albums by John Jackson issued during his lifetime. Fortunately two CDs on Arhoolie and one on Alligator are still readily available. “
Rappahannock Blues” is a terrific addition to this body of music. Anyone who has any interest in acoustic blues, especially the Piedmont tradition, will find this an essential purchase. Included is a booklet with copious notes on John and the songs from producers Barry Lee Pearson and Jeff Place that matches the quality of John jackson’s exquisite performances. For information on this release and others from Smithsonian Folkways, visit, http://www.folkways.si.edu/index.aspx. For this release follow this link: http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=3273. 

Smithsonian-Folkways provided me with a download of this CD.

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