The party has started at Vanguard and they were good enough to invite all of us to share in their golden anniversary celebration. With the release of Route 50: Driving New Roots for 50 Years, we are offered bites of a delectably layered 2 CD sampler, served up on a platter of pure gold. |
Chicago style blues blower James Cotton opens the first CD with Next Time You See Me. First signed to the label in 1964, then again in '67, Cotton is best known for tootin' harmonica. However, it's his rich baritones and the woody warmth of tenor sax that swing this song. Cotton's contemporaries, Junior Wells, Otis Spann and Buddy Guy are also showcased on disk one: Wells' jumpin' James Brown-like vocal enthusiasm; Spann's blend of boogie-woogie and slow blues chords on piano and Guy's Louisiana cotton-pickin' experience translated to guitar plucking with considerable finesse. Skip James, although a generation older than the Delta bluesmen already mentioned, achieved fame late in life, about the same time they did, after abandoning the racially-segregated south to sing gospel music for several years. Rescued from obscurity like the man himself, his song, I'm So Glad, later covered by Eric Clapton during his Cream years, allowed the aging statesman to die in financial dignity (at least) while his posthumous notoriety continues to build. Charlie Musselwhite on signature harp, wails through I Don't Play, I'll be your Man Someday. He's followed by John Hammond, the only other white stripe on an otherwise black cast of early blues cats, crooning, Ask Me Nice. Perhaps best known for her folk repertoire, Odetta nonetheless belts out a Mean and Evil blues tune, assuring, along with Big Mama Thornton that gutsy dames are well represented on Vanguard's legendary lineup.
Doc Watson's rapid fire Black Mountain Rag, and Sandy Bull's plaintive banjo plucking in Little Maggie, represent the best of bluegrass pickers, while Mississippi John Hurt bridges bluegrass into folk with his cover of Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight. John Fahey fills up five delightful minutes with innovative, brilliant, genre-less guitar, and Eric Anderson reminds us as we finish our listening tour to Close the Door Lightly When You Go.
But wait! That's not all! On CD two, we are treated to an entire second helping of tunes. The liner notes say, "This program chronicles Vanguard's continuing effort to record distinctive, emerging artists," and kick starts it with Mark Selby's stomping blues-rock jams to prove it. (See F.A.M.E. review of Selby's More Storms Comin', at www.acousticmusic.com/fame/p01528.htm). The double shots of alleged alt. country (whatever that really means) from singer-songwriter Terry Radigan, drown in country pop. But from Tab Benoit we're treated to cajun-spiced Jambalaya, and Crawfishin'. Troubadour Peter Case, signed with Vanguard since Sings Like Hell (1994), croons a compelling, Blue Distance, then shows off in an outstanding flat-picking folk tune called, Something Happens. Two from David Wilcox's second Vanguard release, What you Whispered, appear here (See F.A.M.E. review at www.acousticmusic.com/fame/p01521.htm), as do popular pairs from Venice and Patty Larkin. The surprises (for me) were La Primera, and Brahmas and Mustangs, by Canadian cowboy Ian Tyson. It's not astonishing that Vanguard included him in their special anniversary compilation, but that he wasn't on Disk One along with all the other 'legendary' performers whose work we've enjoyed for decades. Tsk. Tsk.
And like a good chef, who constantly strives to introduce new delicacies to regular restaurant patrons, on walks Bill Miller to the Vanguard stage. Although he's certainly no novice (Miller fairly well swept last year's Native American Music Awards, winning five trophies-Artist Of The Year, Song Of The Year (Ghostdance), Best Male Artist, Best Folk/Country Artist and Songwriter Of The Year), this two song teaser was enough to whet my 'Altered Native' spiritual appetite. (See F.A.M.E. review of Ghostdance at www.acousticmusic.com/fame/p01461.htm.) You can bet I'll be paying closer attention to him in the future!
And isn't that the point? With music inundating our consciousness almost every waking minute, leave it to Vanguard to cook up an attention-getting audio feast like Route 50: Driving New Roots for 50 Years. It's a glimpse inside the music parlors of the past and the song-soup kitchen of future. I can't wait to taste whatever else they have cooking!