Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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PERCY MAYFIELD
His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
Rhino Handmade

Blues pioneer ponders life and love with the help of an orchestra

Excepting Muddy Waters wordman Willie Dixon, the eloquent depressive Percy Mayfield was the blues' greatest post-World War II songwriter, and unlike Dixon, he could sing. The classic tracks that fill two Specialty compilations were cut before a disfiguring accident ended his live career. But this collection captures his professional peak, when Ray Charles had him under contract. In 1961, Mayfield's "Hit the Road Jack" went to number 1 for Charles, who reciprocated by putting its creator in the studio with crack musicians who loved him. His baritone blurred by booze and tribulation, Mayfield doesn't altogether kill such self-explanatory titles as "River's Invitation" and "Life Is Suicide." But even on this completist package's lesser songs, you can hear him brooding--and trying to put a wry face on it.

Blender, Apr. 2004