Matchbox Bluesmaster Series
Set 1: Country Blues and Ragtime Blues Guitar 1926–30 (MSESET1 – Buddy Boy Hawkins, Bo Weavil Jackson, Peg Leg Howell, Texas Alexander… )
Set 2: Country Blues and Great Harp Players 1927–32 (MSESET2 – Skip James, Coley Jones, Leroy Carr…)
(Both 6-CD sets reviewed by Chris Parker)
Pointing out Its subsequent influence on popular music, however, is merely a convenient way of drawing attention to the blues and associated forms such as ragtime, gospel and hokum; that this music richly rewards close listening merely for its own sake is demonstrated over and over again by the 12 albums that constitute the initial releases of a projected series on CD taken from the vinyl recordings issued by Saydisc in the 1980s, embracing neglected solo blues singers as well as string bands, harp players and purveyors of novelty songs. Paul Oliver (who died in 2017) has provided characteristically learned notes, and the recordings have been skilfully transferred to CD by Norman White.
These two sets cover music recorded between 1926 and 1932, and while the work of some artists will be familiar (such as the vigorous keening of Skip James and the sophisticated assurance of Leroy Carr), other practitioners have undeservedly fallen into relative obscurity. The piercing melancholy of Peg Leg Howell or the affectingly mournful vibrato of Charley Lincoln, for instance, are something of a revelation, likewise the filigree delicacy of the guitar work of Willie Walker (his apparently effortless artistry compared with that of Art Tatum by no less a figure than Josh White, who called him “the best guitarist I’ve ever heard”). Other highlights include the feisty shouting style of Nellie Florence (one of the few women represented), the lively interplay of the various musicians involved in the sessions headed by Tommie Bradley and James Cole, and the strident vocals of Bo Weavil Jackson (Sam Butler).
Vol 1 and Vol 2 of the Matchbox Bluesmaster Series are out now: