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