The Path Where the Blues Began

Various Artists - Deep River of Song -
Mississippi: The Blues Lineage

(Rounder Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)

Story by Tony Bonyata

(Rounder Records) 4 stars (out of 5 stars) In their latest installment of roots, blues and world folk music compiled from historian Alan Lomax's wide breadth of field recordings made earlier this century, Rounder Records has released a shining collection of earthy blues entitled Mississippi: The Blues Lineage (Musical Geniuses of the Fields, Levees and Jukes).
Lomax's intent for this collection of Delta blues, which were originally recorded between 1936 and 1942, was to build an important bridge from the present to the past, especially for African-Americans who he feared have lost touch with their rich cultural heritage. "It is a thing of great beauty," wrote Lomax. "No song style exists anywhere that can surpass this material for sheer variety, originality and charm. Yet it's most genuine aspects are little known today and are fast fading out of currency under the pound of the media."
Culling material that Lomax, along with his father John, mined from the deep South's folk musicians, Mississippi: The Blues Lineage opens a window not only into the history of the blues but into the feelings and living conditions of rural southern blacks in the thirties and forties.
"Going down in the Delta, where I can have my fun. Where I can drink my white lightning and gamble, I can bring my baby home", sings William Brown (not to be confused with bluesman Willie Brown) on "Mississippi Blues", which touches on two familiar themes of early blues - love, or love lost, and vice. "High-Rolling Sergeant" captures a group of three prisoners, recorded from Mississippi's Parchman Penitentiary in 1936, chanting their plan for escape in work-song fashion, while Hollis "Fat Head" Washington, also an inmate at Parchman, delivers a chilling cry of freedom on "Early in the Morning".
Although filled with superb performances from the aforementioned unknown artists, Mississippi: The Blues Lineage also features artists that would eventually help shape the future of the blues. These artists include the likes of McKinley Morganfield (aka Muddy Waters), David "Honeyboy" Edwards, who at 84 years old still performs and is the only living link to the original Delta bluesmen, and Eddie "Son" House, one of the original "soul" blues singers who was an immense inspiration on two of the greatest bluesmen of the Delta South, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters - the latter Lomax accidentally discovered while searching for Johnson in 1941, who he found had been poisoned to death by the jealous husband of a lover.
Waters is featured on the album with two of the last numbers he ever recorded on the plantation where he worked in Stovall, Mississippi before moving to Chicago and changing the face of blues forever. One of them "You Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone", with his somber vocals and meaningful slide guitar, was a song that he would resurrect later in his Chicago heydays.
"Honeyboy" Edwards, who claims that he was with Robert Johnson at his deathbed, is featured on the tumultuous number "Wind Howlin' Blues", filled with painful vocals, soulful harmonica and a guitar style which hearkens back to the style of one of his mentors Big Joe Williams.
The raw, unadulterated blues of "Son" House is showcased on three numbers "The Jinx Blues", "Low Down Dirty Dog Blues" and the brilliant "Walking Blues", which features House delivering his saintly-sinner vocals over a rebellious country blues accompaniment by Fiddlin' Joe Martin (mandolin), Leroy Williams (harmonica) and Willie Brown (guitar).
The musicians and their songs preserved by the Lomax's on Mississippi: The Blues Lineage not only leads us down the path where the blues began, but also points to the highway of influence they paved for popular music.

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