Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Johnny Shines

  • Johnny Shines [Blue Horizon, 1972] A-
  • Too Wet to Plow [Blue Labor, 1977] A-

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Johnny Shines [Blue Horizon, 1972]
Born in 1915, Shines is the most vigorous surviving practitioner of acoustic Delta blues. With his intense vibrato, his observant, imaginative, yet tradition-soaked lyrics, and his incomparable slide guitar, he ought to be recorded once a year by the Library of Congress. Right. He did this session for English blues fiend Mike Vernon in 1968, but only now has it been released in the States. A band featuring Willie Dixon and Shakey Horton is on half the cuts. A-

Too Wet to Plow [Blue Labor, 1977]
Shines isn't Robert Johnson made flesh and come to walk amongst us--you should hear his Biograph stuff--but here he takes advantage of his forty-year edge to make an album that's easier to listen to--because it sounds better--than King of the Delta Blues Singers. Engineering is only a means to an end--the real secret is a devotion to the form so passionate that Shines's playing and singing are wild and brilliant as they've never been before. Guitarist and change-of-pace vocalist Louisiana Red and harpman Sugar Blue add small touches of plenty. The songwriting fades some on side two. A-