Friday, August 10, 2012

Elmore James Shook His Money Maker

One of the greatest bluesmen of all time, Elmore James is the subject of a new collection of his later recordings on the reactivated Buddah label, Shake Your Money Maker - The Best Of The Fire Recordings. The Mississippi blues legend of course is known for his electric juke joint recording of Robert Johnson’s Dust My Broom for Trumpet Records, but over the course of the next twelve years, his music developed into a somewhat more urbane style that also clearly showed a debt not simply to Johnson, but also to Robert Nighthawk.

What is also lost is the fact he was a great blues singer who sang with great urgency and power. John Broven’s liner notes describe the background of James’ career, and based on his interview of legendary record producer Bobby Robinson, details how Robinson, in Chicago for business, came across James playing in a club, leading to James recording The Sky is Crying, which helped rejuvenate his career.

This album contains many of the choicest selections of James’ recordings for Robinson with the possible exception of One Way Out. In addition to the title track there are such other gems as Look on Yonder’s Wall, Stranger’s Blues (set to the Rolling and Tumbling melody), Done Somebody Wrong, Nighthawk’s Anna Lee, Something Inside Me (perhaps his finest slow, brooding blues), and first rate reworkings of earlier recordings Dust My Broom, and Standing at the Crossroads.

The package is wonderfully mastered and is a must for anyone who lacks prior releases of this material. The James is the first significant blues reissue on Buddah, which apparently is becoming the major reissue imprint for BMG.

This review originally appeared in the July/August 2001 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 252) and the April 2001 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. This review was written before Steven Franz’s excellent biography of Elmore James The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James that states that Elmore deserves as much credit as Johnson for Dust My Broom, and that he did more than simply update Johnson’s recording.

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