FAME Review: Blind Lemon Pledge - Evangeline
Blind Lemon Pledge - Evangeline


Blind Lemon Pledge

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

At first, given the front man's grin-inducing a.k.a. and the titles of a couple of the cuts (Go Jump the Willie, You had Me at Goodbye), I thought this was going to be a tongue-in-cheek affair, but it isn't. Instead, Evangeline is surprisingly gritty, folky, bluesy, and dirt-wallow authentic, returning the blues back to their earliest days and antecedents (as any good musicologist will tell you, there's quite a bit of back historied White in Black blues; slaves were, after all, under the iron fist of White antebellum business swine and mostly denied their own cultures). The opening Buley's Farm is chain-gang grunt-chant but its follower, Jennie Bell is pure Village Vanguard. Then the brothel-tinkly Brimstone Joe is an ironic back parlor stage ditty bringing Broadway down to the rutted dirt roads and back alley.

James Byfield, warbler and git-fiddlist, is Blind Lemon Pledge, and it becomes a bit surprising that he wrote everything here, traveling with headlong speed from the 2000s back to the 1920s through 60s with gusto, vigor, and a cool-ass backing band bedded down in Louisiana delta swamp, Georgia cotton fields, and New York ghettos…but Jim's hiding a secret, one that well explains how deeply he's able to access the heart and soul of so many roots musics: while woodshedding his rear end off, playing damn near every style he could lay his hands on, he took a 5-year side trip to dig into Chinese classical music, learning to play the erhu (two-stringed 'guitar') from a local master.

"What the hell?!?!", I can hear you muttering, but, hey, 'member Jerry Garcia? Ever hear of Tom Waits? Those guys are also big-time music aficionados above and beyond their recorded oeuvres, and, once we set aside our exceptionalist prejudices (don't feel too bad, America, every other culture on Earth thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread too), we find much akin in disparate World musics, from the top of the spectrum to the bottom. So how does Byfield come by his daunting acumen and captivating fidelities to past eras? I jes' tolya, Bertram! And before I leave off the subject, you'd be very surprised to discover how deeply Iggy Pop is into music of all kinds, not just frenetic sweating metallic mayhem.

This is a CD I can't winnow a favorite track from, deeply satisfying from beginning to end, though when I say 'satisfying', I mean 'whiskey bottle, hot 'n humid, dog-grinning, half naked satisfying'. I do, however, confess to a weakness for the Winchester-esque Go Jump the Willie, a jook-joint BBQ cut that fingersnaps Friday afternoon into Saturday. And, um, ya do know what 'Willie' is a euphemism for, doncha, John Thomas? And, er, you can figger out what "jump the Willie" is slang for, cantcha? Sure you can, and if you'll excuse me, I do believe I hear the doorbell. That means my weekend trystee has arrived with bourbon and slinky intent, bent upon endowing me with yet another in a long series of lessons in The Language of Love. I'm a damn good student when it comes to that kind of outside-the-book larnin', so its time to set typewriter aside and adjourn to rediscover why Adam could only make Eden once Eve arrived. Jump the Willie indeed.

Track List:

  • Buley's Farm
  • Jennie Bell
  • Brimstone Joe
  • Midnight Assignation
  • Go Jump the Willie
  • Language of Love
  • Ham and Eggs
  • How Can I Still Love You
  • You Had Me At Goodbye
  • Evangeline
All songs written by James Byfield.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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