Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Joseph Spence

  • Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2021] A

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Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing [Smithsonian/Folkways, 2021]
Although it opens with two signature tunes, "Out on the Rolling Sea" and "Won't That Be a Happy Time," most of these titles are not yet in the canon of the miraculous Spence, a sui generis West Indies stylist whose congenial accent, grunted hums, gargled embellishments, and now-treble now-bass picking render him as irresistible for me as any blues icon this side of John Hurt. Some of them are classics: the good-enough-for-me hymn-cum-jubilee-song "Give Me That Old Time Religion," the study-war-no-more hymn-cum-protest-song "Down by the Riverside," the infinitely coverable Benny Goodman hit "The Glory of Love," the Belafonte as opposed to Beyoncé "Brown Skin Girl." Others--the loosely anchored "In Times Like These," the God-seeking "Death and the Woman"--probably should be. Miraculously only maybe Spence was the miracle, all but two were recorded during a single May 1965 New York City weekend. A