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Jimmie Rodgers – The Singing Brakeman.

His 50 Greatest Hits

LIVING ERA CD AJS2011 [2 CDs 76.09 + 75.33]


1. Brakeman's Blues (Yodeling The Blues Away)
2. Soldier's Sweetheart
3. Sleep Baby Sleep
4. Ben Dewerry's Final Run
5. Blue Yodel No 1 (T For Texas)
6. Sailor's Plea
7. In The Jailhouse Now
8. Blue Yodel No 2 (My Lovin' Gal Lucille)
9. Blue Yodel No 3 (Evening Sun Yodel)
10. My Old Pal
11. My Little Old Home Down In New Orleans
12. My Little Lady
13. Never No Mo' Blues
14. Blue Yodel No 4 (California Blues)
15. Waiting For A Train
16. Any Old A Train
17. Blue Yodel No 5
18. Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues
19. Train Whistle Blues
20. Jimmie's Texas Blues
21. Frankie And Johnny
22. Blue Yodel No 6
23. Yodeling Cowboy
24. My Rough And Rowdy Ways
25. Hobo Bill's Last Ride
Disc: 2
1. Mississippi River Blues
2. Blue Yodel No 7 (Anniversary Blue Yodel)
3. Blue Yodel No 11
4. Pistol Packin' Papa
5. Those Gambler's Blues
6. Blue Yodel No 8 (Mule Skinner Blues)
7. Blue Yodel No 9 (Standing On The Corner)
8. TB Blues
9. Travellin' Blues
10. Jimmie The Kid
11. Wonderful City
12. Let Me Be Your Sidetrack
13. When The Cactus Is In Bloom (Round Up Time Out West)
14. Looking For A New Mama
15. My Good Gal's Gone
16. Roll Along Kentucky Moon
17. Blue Yodel No 10 (Ground Hog Rootin' In My Back Yard)
18. No Hard Times
19. Peach Pickin' Time In Georgia
20. Gambling Bar Room Blues
21. Blue Yodel No 12 (Barefoot Blues)
22. Blue Yodel No 13 (Women Made A Fool Out Of Me)
23. Mississippi Delta Blues
24. Somewhere Down Below The Mason Dixie Line
25. Years Ago (Fifteen Years Ago Today)
Jimmie Rodgers (vocal and guitar) with various accompaniments
Recorded 1927-33

I’ve not been scrupulous in fine tooth combing Rodgers’s discography but we have here getting on for half of his commercially released recordings; fifty sides out of one hundred plus that he bequeathed to posterity. The number seems surprisingly small in view of his eminence in the Country world but then TB did for Rodgers at thirty-six in 1933. And he’d only been recording for a scant six years.

It was a bit of a jolt to see that the sleeve note writer was Digby Fairweather, the British cornet player. But then Rodgers has always had a place in jazz lovers’s hearts. He was certainly versed in the blues, elements of which he picked up during his itinerant days, and he sang adaptations of things like St James Infirmary but it was his unlikely 1930 Los Angeles meeting with Louis Armstrong that has endeared him to jazzers – their Blue Yodel No.9 (Standing On The Corner) features Armstrong’s blues-drenched obbligato and his wife Lil’s more genteel parlour piano.

Ballads, songs of the War and lost loved ones, sentimental songs about hearth and home, kith and kin, these were some of the staples of Rodgers repertoire. But there were also hobo ballads, and useful elaborations on such familiar titles as Casey Jones – which is what Ben Dewerry's Final Run is. There are lyrics that you will have heard elsewhere – either because they were already part of the current of popular song or because you’ll have heard Jack Teagarden or Jelly Roll Morton sing them (try Blue Yodel No 1 (T For Texas) – very appropriate for the Texan Teagarden. Plenty of muddy water and Mississippi wine.

It’s true that the rhythmic patterns are rather repetitious, and that the characteristic Rodgers yodelling is so omnipresent as to become stifling, but these were his stylistic prints. He absorbed lines from the St Louis Blues in Blue Yodel No 3 (Evening Sun Yodel) Both Those Gambler's Blues and Gambling Bar Room Blues are in reality St James Infirmary. In fact for one of the founding fathers of Country music it’s remarkable just how many Blues he sang, albeit his was a very different kind to the Classic or Country Blues. Something of his affiliations can be sensed in the band accompaniment, essentially a jazz group line up, on a couple of tracks.

His greatest numbers are here, all the Blue Yodels (not to be sampled in one sitting), Waiting For A Train (unforgettably done), and the maudlin poetics of Hobo Bill's Last Ride.

Other than that Fairweather’s notes are concise and well written, as one would expect of a librarian-scholar-cornetist, and sound quality is good. This is a fine selection and my only complaint is that I wish that Living Era hadn’t given any more publicity to Joel Whitburn’s ridiculous "Chart positions" propounded in his book Pop Memories 1890-1954. That’s one labour of love too crazy to take seriously. There were no charts and it’s foolish in the extreme to extrapolate that you can invent them.

That out of the way, this series has been producing the goods recently and this is no exception.

Jonathan Woolf

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