I had the privilege of knowing that late John Cephas as well as Phil Wiggins who were cornerstone’s of the Washington DC and vicinity blues scene as well as became internationally known for their style of Piedmont blues. The following review was originally published in the July-August 2006 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. It also appeared in the July-August issue of Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 284). I have made very slight stylistic edits. This was I believe their final album on Alligator.
The release of the new Alligator CD, Shoulder to Shoulder by (John) Cephas & (Phil) Wiggins will certainly be welcome by lovers of acoustic blues lovers everywhere, not simply here in the DC area. The two are in usual fine form with Cephas assured guitar and Wiggins remarkable crying harmonica. Ann Rabson adds piano to six tracks while Daryl Davis is heard on one.
This opens when a fine Cephas original, Ain’t Seen My Baby that shows off Cephas Piedmont guitar style, and closes with a blues taken from Robert Johnson’s Walking Blues, The Blues Three Ways on which Daryl Davis adds some solid piano. In between those numbers, the pair rework Skip James recording of the Delta classic Catfish Blues, on which Cephas shows himself to be one of the most consistently able interpreters of James’ music. Another highpoint is Cephas’ Piedmont reworking of Charlie Patton’s deep delta blues, Dirt Road, with Rabson’s piano adding to the tunes flavor. Seattle Rainy Day Blues is another standout original with a wonderful lyric and solid piano from Rabson behind the two.
The performances are consistently strong with the piano especially lending a bit more city feel to some of these excellent performances in what is another excellent addition to their body of recordings.
I received my review copy from Alligator.
As a postscript, while John Cephas passed away, Phil Wiggins stills performs as well as teaches. He can often be heard performing with Corey Harris, as well as with DC area bluesman Rick Franklin. He regularly gives harmonica workshops at the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation.