Friday, October 19, 2012

When My Mama Was Living Is Choice Louisiana Red

In the 1970s when Kent Cooper first met the late Louisiana Red, Red was working at the Bayonne (New Jersey) Barrel Company and had given up music as the way to support his family. Red had recorded prior to that including an album for the Atlantic Atco subsidiary. Cooper wrote some songs including Sweet Blood Call, and Red recorded some of Cooper’s as well as his own that led to the critically acclaimed Sweet Blood Call and other albums on Blue Labor which also issued albums by Johnny Shines, Roosevelt Sykes and Peg Leg Sam during this period. Red’s career continued for many years, and he continued to record relatively regularly in the past couple decades with the recordings have a consistent quality despite variations in the musical settings and supporting musicians. When Louisiana Red passed, he was rightfully regarded as a great blues artist who had been a heir to the legacies of Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Labor Records has issued a new CD, When My Mama Was Living, that brings together 16 tracks comprised of one track issued on CD for first time and the rest being previously unissued selections or unissued alternate takes. On these selections he is sometimes backed by either Peg Leg Sam or Lefty Dizz with the exception of three tracks Peg Leg Sam is featured on. There is variety in the musical settings that add to the listenability of these performances.

While these may have not been issued previously, there is plenty of strong blues to be heard. Red was in strong vocal form at the time and put so much into delivering the lyrics. Walk All Over Georgia sets the tone backed only by his harmonica followed by his interpretation of Slim Harpo’s King Bee, where he plays spare trebly guitar and overdubbed harmonica. The title track is another selection where his harmonica provides the sole accompaniment and throws in an occasional whoop to accent the lyrics. 

Bad Case of the Blues is one of several selections that finds Red playing the manner of Lightnin’ Hopkins followed by a solo Peg Leg Sam Piedmont harmonica blues Little Susie James. Lefty Dizz adds support behind Red’s slide on Got a Girl With a Dog Won’t Bark, which adapts the melody of Shake Your Money Maker. Red’s playing on this previously unissued alternate take is a bit tentative sounding to this listener. Cold White Sheet is another Hopkins’ styled blues as he sings about can’t stand the city no more and would rather die on a southland farm, while Going Back to Georgia adapts the 44 Blues melody for his lyric about leaving those Northern gals behind.

You’ve Got To Move is the traditional sacred number in the style of Fred McDowell with Peg Leg Sam adding harmonica behind Red’s slide with Jim Robinson adding a second vocal. Peg Leg Sam sounds feisty on I'll Be Glad When You Are Dead You Rascal You, with plenty of crying harmonica. Cooper and Red’s Cold, Cold Feeling is another traditionally grounded blues strongly performed in the vein of Lightnin’ Hopkins. Red accompanies Peg Leg Sam on his spirited John Henry. This album closes with Red’s “Joanna.” This was recorded with a small group at WKCR and Red lays down nice slide guitar adding a some spoken interjections to his vocal.

This writer has long been fond of the Blue Labor Louisiana Red recordings and this new release of unissued songs and alternate takes is most welcome. Louisiana Red was in quite fine form during this period and When My Mama Was Living certainly stands up as an excellent release that lovers of down home blues will certainly appreciate.

I received a review copy from a publicist for the release. Here is a video of him in his Elmore James mood.

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