Sunday, November 06, 2011

Homesick James Could Still Shake His Moneymaker In His Eighties

Cousin of the late Elmore James, the late Homesick James Williamson was perhaps described among the second-tier of slide guitarists performing in the manner of his more famous broomdusting cousin. SRV Blue has just issued Shake Your Money Maker, some 1999 live recordings in Switzerland produced by Fred James who is on guitar on these tracks.

James was one of the artists who recorded for small Chicago labels like Chance for whom he waxed Lonesome Old Train and his signature song, Homesick Blues. Later he recorded an album for Prestige which I find hardly memorable although Fred James, in the liner booklet, calls it Homesick’s ‘high water mark.’ He also was recorded by Sam Charters for the classic anthology, Chicago The Blues Today, which this writer feels is his most impressive work. In the ensuing years until his December 2006, he recorded a number of albums for a variety of labels including Trix, Ice House, Appaloosa. European recordings he made with the late harp player Snooky Pryor are the ones most worth seeking.

With respect to Shake Your Money Maker, it shows that in his 80’s Homesick James had lost little in terms of his playing and husky vocals. As Fred James observes, Homesick had an erratic sense of timing, but also his slide playing seems a bit off the beat compared to his contemporaries. Certainly his slide attack lacks the forcefulness of his contemporaries such as Hound Dog Taylor and J.B. Hutto. There is little surprising of the performances here in terms of material. Gotta Move and Set a Date had mainstays of Homesick James repertoire as was Elmore’s The Sky is Crying. There are some interesting songs included like, Crosscut Saw, that sort of meanders along as opposed to being played with the crisp rhythms of Albert King’s recording, and a rendition of Arthur Crudup’s That’s Alright Mama.

These are mostly lengthy performances that would have benefited from being a tad bit more focused and briefer, but generally are engaging.

I received my review copy from Jazz & Blues Report and this review originally appeared in that publication’s January 2008 issue (issue 300), and I have made some stylistic changes.

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