Digby Fairweather’s sleeve-note
makes the astute point that Broonzy’s was
a more versatile and stylistically multifarious
career than it might once have seemed. His
post-War peregrinations disposed the wistful
to think him a survivor of the Mississippi
fields (which is how he was once actually
introduced) whereas this disc shows he was
anything but a primitive or archaic survivor.
Living Era’s selection from
among his many recordings therefore gives
us his well known sides with frequent collaborator
Black Bob before moving on to the 1940s discs
with his Chicago Five. The 1930s tracks are
prototypical Broonzy, whilst the 1940s jump
and boogie recordings are less familiar perhaps
to those unaware of the trajectory of his
career. We also have an envoi of two live
concert performances from Germany in 1951.
These are the more reminiscent of his magnificent
"Last Testament" sessions for Verve.
The 1930-41 solo and duo
sides comprise a fine selection of risqué
numbers, standards, modified country blues,
rural blues and the like. His musical relationship
with Black Bob produced its fair share of
masterpieces. We can also hear Broonzy’s simple
but effective violin playing on See See
Rider, a song long associated with Ma
Rainey. Things are somewhat less impressive
when he’s joined by pianists Joshua Altheimer
and Horace Malcolm but pick up again immeasurably
when Memphis Slim joins him in July 1941.
That year also saw collaborations with Blind
John Davis (I Feel So Good) and Jazz
Gillum both happily documented here.
His swing and jump influenced
band starred Punch Miller, scion of the New
Orleans trumpet hierarchy, Buster Bennett
on alto, Memphis Slim and drummer John Riley.
The whole ensemble is underpinned by Slim’s
galvanic pianism, and Miller plays some gorgeous
lower register work. Bennett is serviceable
and extrovert. When Broonzy recorded with
another horn led band the results were generic
if not quite desultory. Sax Mallard and Bill
Casimir produced faceless playing and the
boogie craze rather swallowed up Broonzy’s
The copies used are in an
excellent state of preservation and have been
treated most sympathetically by the Living
Era team. This fine disc traces the time line
of Broonzy’s career with acumen and discrimination.