Darker Blues - Various Artists
(Fat Possum Records)
4 (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 12, 2003
Review by Tony BonyataMuch more than just a two-CD compilation of Fat Possum Records' roster of gritty, untapped blues artists, Darker Blues is also a handsomely produced hardbound book with over 100 pages of sumptuous photographs of Mississippi bluesmen by photographer David Raccuglia. This collection also features insightful bios and personal memories of each artist from the likes of Anthony DeCurtis, Robert Palmer, Barry Hannah and even Iggy Pop (the latter a telling sign that Fat Possum isn't afraid to bring different elements and genres to the table, just as long it's the real deal).
Disc one features the haunting, harrowing music of older bluesmen such as Junior Kimbrough (with Charlie Feathers on "Release Me"), T-Model Ford ("To the Left to the Right"), Solomon Burke ("None of Us Are Free"), Mississippi Fred McDowell (with Johnny Woods on "Mama Says I'm Crazy") and Robert Pete Williams ("Goodbye Slim Harpo"), among others. And while it's primarily the older black artists from Mississippi that are featured on this rough-hewed disc, it also incorporates some of the label's newer white artists, such as Bob Log III ("Log Bomb"), Kenny Brown ("Fare Thee Well") and 20 Miles ("All My Brothers, Sisters Too"), which only proves you don't have to be a black sharecropper to have deep soul (even if these musicians may have learned it first hand from a black sharecropper).
Disc two features the eclectic, yet highly intoxicating shot-gun wedding of Mississippi bluesman R.L. Burnside's red, raw vocal growls and hypnotic guitar along with Mike E. Clark's hip-hop beats and turntable scratchings. While the seven never-before-released songs here aren't quite as exhilarating as Burnside's 1998 crossover hit album Come On In, they still reaffirm that the blues as a creative, artistic medium is far from starring down into it's own grave.
The real treat of this entire package, though, is when the music from the CDs are emitting from your speakers and you sit back with the Darker Blues book that the discs are housed in. Through both well-written histories and artistically shot color and black-and-white photographs of each artist (not to mention that the book has a similar hefty feel to that first brick of Black Cats your older brother had as a kid), the music comes to life even more vividly through a broader knowledge of the artists represented.
Of course if that's not enough, there's also an exclusive full-color comic book by Joe Sacco entitled "The Rude Blues, which follows T-Model Ford through his tragic life in the rural South, which should also prove interesting to comic collectors.
For lover's of real earthy blues - both the music and the history, this collection (even at 35 bucks) is worth every plug nickel.
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