Various Artists – Blue Muse
21 songs – 72 minutes
Music Maker Relief Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary of providing aid to impoverished traditional Southern musicians with this meaty compilation, which includes cuts from many of its artists as well as a helping hand from several major artists.
Based out of Hillsborough, N.C., the non-profit organization’s primary goal is to insure that its roster — about 100 acoustic and electric blues acts as well as gospel and Native American artists, too, at last count — won’t be silenced by poverty or the passage of time and that the heritage they provide will survive for future generations.
This CD is accompanied by an extensive book of liner notes that feature tintype portraits captured by founder Tim Duffy. The disc itself includes contributions from Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton, Carolina Chocolate Drops founder Dom Flemons and soul-blues star Robert Finley who’s most famous for his work who with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
A trio of Frenchmen — Simon Arcache, Raphael Evrard and Clement Prunet, two of whom toured with Ironing Board Sam – kick off the action with “La Collegiale.” It’s a homage to the artists who inspired their musical odyssey and contains sound bites from several of those forebears. The action heats up as Taj delivers a tasty solo take on Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spike Driver Blues.”
Captain Luke, a deep baritone and former partner to Guitar Gabriel, is up next with a stripped-down version of “Old Black Buck” before 92-year-old Atlanta keyboard wizard Eddie Tigner delivers a rollicking take of “Route 66” in full band format. Alabama Slim takes you deep into the country with “I Got The Blues” then gives way to Finley for the searing love ballad “Age Don’t Mean A Thing” and Flemons for the familiar “Polly Put The Kettle On.”
John Dee Holeman, 89 and a disciple of Lightnin’ Hopkins, delivers “Hambone” while Algia Mae Hinton finger picks the romantic “Snap Your Fingers” and Willie Farmer tears it up with the Hill Country pleaser “I Am The Lightnin’” before Washington state native Dave McGrew offers up “D.O.C. Man,” a solo acoustic take about staring down someone from the department of corrections.
Virginians Martha Spencer and Kelley Breiding team on guitar and vocals to cover “Sweet Valentine,” giving way to the late Boot Hanks aided by Flemons on hambone for “I Wanna Boogie.” Clapton’s contribution is up next. Duffy plays rhythm guitar as Eric delivers a sensational take on Willie Brown’s Delta classic, “Mississippi Blues.”
Guitar Gabriel’s “Landlord Blues” precedes Drink Small’s “Widow Woman” and Sam Frazier Jr.’s “Cabbage Man” before Cary Morin, a member of the Crow nation, delivers “Sing It Louder.” Ironing Board Sam’s “Loose Diamonds,” The Branchettes’ (Lena Mae Perry and her sister, Ethel Elliott) “I Know I’ve Been Changed” and Theotis Taylor’s “Something Within Me” bring the disc to a close.
As great as this album is, it’s also serving as a companion piece to a coffee table book of Duffy’s photos, also entitled Muse. His images will also be on exhibit at the New Orleans Museum Of Art from late April through July 28, 2019.
A few of these artists are no longer with us, but all deserve more recognition. Learn more by visiting the Music Maker website (address above). While you’re at it, put a little money in their tip jar to keep their music alive for another generation.