Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  And It Don't Stop
  Book Reports
  Is It Still Good to Ya?
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Xgau Sez
  And It Don't Stop
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Rolling Stone
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
Web Site:
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
CG Search:
Google Search:

Tommy Johnson

  • Essential Blues Masters [Goldenlane, 2009] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Essential Blues Masters [Goldenlane, 2009]
This Johnson is a Delta legend best appreciated by blues aesthetes like the late great Robert Palmer--who hears, for instance, "a slippery, danceable swing" in guitar accompaniments others account regionally generic. Johnson messed with your woman, drank Sterno for breakfast, and claimed meetings at the crossroads with you-know-who. But he only recorded for two years of his 1896-1956 lifespan. Like most collections available, this one preserves 17 tracks and 13 songs, five of which I have now removed from my iPod for reasons of distressed audio, compositional shortfall, or (usually) both. I've also banished three alternate versions, although I kept both scratchy "Black Mare Blues" just to hear New Orleans's Nehi Boys kick in their piano and clarinet, which do Johnson a lot more good than you-know-who. As I hear it, he has two drop-dead classics in his kit: the indelible "Big Road Blues" and the clarion "Cool Drink of Water Blues." The frailing "Maggie Campbell Blues" and the confessional "Canned Heat Blues" are close behind, and the rowdy-to-miserable likes of "Big Fat Mamma Blues" and "Lonesome Home Blues" fill in the blanks. I saved serious bucks by purchasing this iteration as a download. It also includes a posthumously electrified band version of "Canned Heat Blues" designated "an abomination" by the one blues aesthete on the interweb to acknowledge its existence. Personally, I welcome it as a hint of what might have been. B+