January is officially in its final few days, but even with the month closing out, the year is still very young. With the new year fully underway now, the staff of World Music Network and Riverboat Records wanted to make sure not to waste any time getting started on this year’s new additions to its ongoing series of Rough Guide To… releases. The first of this year’s additions to said series came Friday in the form of The Rough Guide to Texas Blues. The 26-song compilation is another impressive addition to the companies Rough Guide To…series, too. That is due in no small part to its featured songs and artists. This will be discussed shortly. The liner notes that accompany the collection are another high point to its presentation and will be discussed a little later. The set’s production rounds out its most important elements and will also be examined later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the record’s presentation. All things considered, they make the collection yet another successful addition to World Music Network and Riverboat Records’ Rough Guide To…series.
World Music Network and Riverboat Records’ latest addition to its ongoing Rough Guide To…series, The Rough Guide To Texas Blues is a presentation that blues fans across the board will enjoy. That is due in no small part to its featured songs and artists. The songs and artists in question cover a specific span of 11 years from 1926-1937. That era was really the formative period for Texas blues. Legends, such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly (a.k.a. Huddie William Ledbetter), and Blind Lemon Jefferson all rose to fame during those years and set the stage for future generations of blues performers. They are featured here performing some of their most well-known songs along with some lesser-known artists of the day. One of those lesser-known acts is Texas Alexander. Born Alger Alexander, Texas Alexander was from Jewett, Texas. While Alexander released a number of hits, such as ‘Texas Special,’ ‘Mama’s Bad Luck Child,’ and ‘Broken Yo Yo,’ his overall career did not make him a star at the level of the noted artists. Stories passed down hint that his life and career was fraught with strife and that his musical output was limited. Regardless of accuracy, his work helped establish the bigger sound that was early Texas blues, that jazz and swing-infused sound and style.
Andrew “Smoky” Hogg is another of the bluesmen who made Texas blues so beloved even though his star never shined like those of some of his counterparts. HE is also featured here, performing the song, ‘Kind-Hearted Blues.’ His performance here is a take of a song that helped establish Robert Johnson’s fame in the blues community a year prior in 1936, ‘Kind Hearted Woman Blues.’ The two renditions are noticeably different. Johnson’s take is much more subdued and slower than Hogg’s update. Hogg’s take on the song not only bears a slightly altered title – it drops the “woman” from the title – but it is also much shorter, clocking in at two minutes 39 seconds versus the five minute-plus rendition recorded by Johnson. Even with the differences in mind, Hogg’s take on the song would still help Hogg make his own place in the Texas blues community.
Frenchy’s String Band is yet another of the lesser act featured in this collection that shows the importance of the set’s featured acts and songs. This Texas-based string collective released just two titles for Columbia in 1928, ‘Sunshine Special’ and ‘Texas and Pacific Blues,’ which is the song included in this collection. The song is a prime example of how early Texas blues were heavily influenced by the jazz and swing music of the age. The use of the strings alongside the horns conjures thoughts of the swing bands of the era that would perform songs, such as the Charleston. The connection between the two worlds is no clearer than in this performance from this little-known act. When the pairing is considered with the other acts and songs noted and the others featured here, the collective leaves no doubt that the songs and acts featured throughout the collection are of their own importance to the compilation’s presentation. They are just a part of what makes the compilation successful. The liner notes that accompany the collection are of their own importance.
The liner notes that accompany the compilation’s featured acts and songs are important because of the history lesson that they provide. Whether audiences are casual or more well-versed, the history lesson featured in the liner notes will engage and entertain listeners. One of the most interesting items pointed out in the liner notes comes in the discussion on the influence of Henry Thomas. The liner notes state that Thomas’ first recording session did not take place until 1927, when he was 53 years-old. That is an old age for any artist in any genre to get started. Add in that at such point, the music that he recorded was, as the liner notes state, a representation of a bygone era. His performance of ‘Don’t Ease Me In’ is a prime example of that older sound. It really served to exemplify the sound that set the stage for the creation of the Texas blues, and is so pivotal as part of the bigger picture of the region’s blues scene.
The revelation of Thomas’ role in the region’s blues development and history is just one of the most interesting of the items featured in the liner notes. The focus on the role of blues vocalists, such as Bessie Tucker and Texas Alexander is of its own interest. The notes point out that their vocal styles are so reminiscent of the work songs and field hollers that African-Americans would use in the fields in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Audiences who are even slightly familiar with those vocal styles will hear it cut through clearly from each, too. At the same time, their singing styles also show the connection to the jazz influences on the blues at the time.
As if everything noted is not enough, the liner notes’ lead paragraph points out the stylistic difference between Texas blues and Mississippi Delta blues, the other most famous blues style of the age. That in itself will hopefully encourage audiences to embark on their own musical voyage to learn even more deeply, just how different and alike the two genres were and still are. The journeys that audiences will hopefully end up taking will lead to an even deeper appreciation for both forms of the blues, and possibly even the subgenre that is Chicago blues in the long run. Between this starting point, the other revelations and other items included in the liner notes, those notes play heavily into the compilation’s presentation just as much as the collection’s musical content. Together, they give audiences more than enough reason to take in this record. Even collectively, they are just a portion of what makes the record stand out. The songs’ production rounds out the record’s most important items.
The songs’ production is so important plays such an important part in the collection’s presentation because of its role in the record’s general effect. Hearing the static from one song to the next, hearing the richness of each song even in its simplicity, hearing the depth of the vocals, all of it is so clear in each song. That is a tribute to the work that went in to making sure the songs’ aesthetic effect remained just as powerful in their transfer from their original recordings to this point. To that end, those responsible for touching up the songs and making sure they are fully immersive are to be commended for their work. The result is a record that is just as successful for its general effect as for its overall content. All things considered, that content and general effect makes The Rough Guide to Texas Blues such an enjoyable new addition to World Music Network and Riverboat Records’ ongoing Rough Guide To…series that any blues fan will enjoy.
World Music Network and Riverboat Records’ The Rough Guide to Texas Blues is a welcome new addition to the companies’ ongoing Rough Guide To…series. It is a presentation that will appeal widely among blues fans. That is due in part to the songs and acts featured in the collection. They come together to help tell the story of Texas blues’ formative years in such rich fashion. From well- to lesser-known acts and songs, they form a solid foundation for the collection. The liner notes that accompany the record’s musical content adds even more to that history lesson and can certainly encourage audiences to embark on their own blues history lesson when considered with said content. The production that went into the record’s production ensured that the original recordings were expertly transferred to this presentation. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the collection’s presentation. All things considered, they make The Rough Guide to Texas Blues a solid starting point and otherwise for any blues fan’s musical library.
The Rough Guide to Texas Blues is available now through World Music Network and Riverboat Records. More information on this and other titles from World Music Network is available online at:
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