David "Honeyboy" Edwards,
Don't Mistreat a Fool
(Adelphi/Genes Blues Vault, 1999)

Little Brother Montgomery,
No Special Rider
(Adelphi/Genes Blues Vault, 1999)

Adelphi/Genes is performing a real service for blues fans, re-releasing great old blues sessions on CD, and these two are a real treat, giving us a shot of both acoustic guitar and piano blues that's hard to beat.

David "Honeyboy" Edwards has one of the greatest, gruffest voices ever to sing the blues, and the first of the 1969/1971 sessions on Don't Mistreat a Fool was recorded at the Thunderbird Motel in Chicago, along with Edwards' friends Johnny Shines, Big Walter Horton and Big Joe Williams sitting in on some tracks. Edwards knew and heard both legendary delta bluesmen Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson in his youth, and his playing and singing are true to the delta tradition, just seasoned with a taste of Chicago.

From the very first track, these songs ring out like God's own truth. This is pure, raw, acoustic blues. The slide guitar plays a perfect foil to the voice singing about how "Myrtle Mae" is gone, wailing like a banshee, and then fading away in tears. After the emotional start, some of the other highlights are "Bull Cow Blues #2," a hard-hitting call/response with a heavy running bass line, and "Hot Springs (Arkansas) Blues," which is laid-back and mellow. But no matter the style of blues, Edwards' voice is uncommonly expressive. "Little Boy Blue" is sloooow, with more great slide guitar work providing some haunting instrumental breaks. There are some odd and quirky chord progressions here that will have you cocking your head.

Edwards fairly squeals for joy in the bouncy "You Gonna Catch Trouble," especially during the instrumental bridges. There's some real savage guitar work on the title track, and "Howlin' Wind" is a blues tour de force that starts out eerie and just gets more and more angry.

There's good news too, as in the cheery "You're the One": "I feel so good, I feel so good today / Got a letter from my baby, she's comin' back home to stay." Big Walter Horton plays great harp on this one, laying down a nice background behind Edwards and doing some sweet solo work. The last track, "(Meet the) Mornin' Train," features some wonderful, nasty string-slapping, buzzing and percussive, to end thirteen terrific tracks.

We go from blues guitar to barrelhouse blues piano with Little Brother Montgomery's No Special Rider. Eurreal Montgomery, born in 1906, played piano from his youth, accompanying such blues artists as Tommy Johnson and the Chatmon Brothers. These recordings were made in Montgomery's Chicago home one day in 1969, along with Mike Stewart, a young white blues guitarist, and Jeanne Carroll, a pop singer with a great talent for the blues.

As soon as the music starts, you know you're in blues piano heaven, and you're sure you're in Montgomery's parlor -- I've never heard a piano as gloriously out of tune, out of registration, out of sight! And it doesn't matter a damn bit. It helps if anything, the piano actually sounding like a guitar at times as the tones twist and bend behind Montgomery's singing. And the man can sing -- he has a melodic voice with true intonation, yet with a pure blues sound. He can also play -- that left hand pounds out a boogie-woogie rhythm that Albert Ammons could've been proud of.

Jeanne Carroll makes her first appearance with "You Gotta See Your Mama Every Night," and she's a great addition to the session. She's got a strong, clear, jazz-oriented voice with great pitch and enunciation without losing a bit of the '20s blues feel. She does more great work with "Gin House Blues," an old Bessie Smith song, "New Vicksburg Blues," and "Oh, Daddy," one of Ma Rainey's classics.

"London Shout" is another great Montgomery piano solo, rollicking and bouncing. There's a tremendous variety of music on this disc, from barrelhouse to old-fashioned pop to boogie-woogie to a shout, with its insistent oom-pah oom-pah rhythm. Other piano solos include "Farrish Street Jive," an up-tempo piece with some interesting left-hand work, and "Muleface Blues," a heavily syncopated ragtime number with a dazzling chromatic chordal climb in the bridge.

Perhaps the highlight of the CD is an interview in which Montgomery plays more than he talks, showing how he learned to play the blues. It's an amazing demonstration of technique, in which the bluesman builds layer upon layer to create a full-fledged piano blues performance.

Both CDs are lovingly remastered for a real sense of immediacy and presence, and the lengthy liner notes make for fascinating reading, especially Honeyboy Edwards' bizarre monologues on crap shooting. But the music is the star here, and it's top-notch in every way. For fans of acoustic and barrelhouse piano blues, these are must-haves.

Now I'm going to go listen to R. L. Burnside's My Black Name A-Ringin', another in this series (you'll see my review shortly), and keep hoping that Adelphi/Genes drag more great sessions like these out of their "Blues Vault."

[ by Chet Williamson ]

Buy Don't Mistreat a Fool from Amazon.com.

Buy No Special Rider from Amazon.com.