June 21, 2005

Album Review

Hard Time Killin' Floor isn't the first Skip James collection, and one could bet it will not be the last. But Hard Time Killin' Floor makes a pretty good argument for itself: the hour-and-six-minute album holds all of James' early work, and it's been remastered. James' soulful vocal style, like Robert Johnson's, has often been noted, but his quick picking style is also distinctive. "I'm So Glad" is performed at an up-tempo, breakneck pace, and the finger work will leave the listener dizzy. The title cut, on the other hand, has a slow, lazy quality, with the blue notes of the guitar matching the singer's mournful cry. James was somewhat unique among blues guitarists in that he also played piano. His spunky gospel style is on full display on songs like "How Long Buck" and the bizarrely titled "Little Cow and Calf Is Gonna Die Blues." Of course Hard Time Killin' Floor wouldn't be complete without "Devil Got My Woman," the same song that would bring down the house at the Newport Folk Festival some 30 years later. The sound quality of these recordings, it should be noted, is a bit rough. This isn't a criticism; just something that should be noted for blues fans unfamiliar with the minefield of re-recording old songs from rare 78s. Yazoo and its engineers have made the best of a difficult situation, and for that, blues fans will be grateful. Interestingly, Yazoo, having extra room at the end of the CD, added four songs by another blues great, Son House. While the pairing might seem a bit odd, who'd complain about having four early Son House songs for free? Not this reviewer.
Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Cypress Grove Blues
  2. If You Haven't Any Hay Get on Down the Road
  3. Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues
  4. Special Rider Blues
  5. Devil Got My Woman
  6. I'm So Glad
  7. Cherrry Ball Blues
  8. 22-20 Blues
  9. Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader
  10. Hard Luck Child
  11. Little Cow and Calf Is Gonna Die Blues
  12. Illinois Blues
  13. Drunken Spree
  14. Four O'Clock Blues
  15. How Long Buck
  16. Yola My Blues Away
  17. Be Ready When He Comes
  18. What Am I to Do Blues
  19. My Black Mama, Pt. 1 [*]
  20. My Black Mama, Pt. 2 [*]
  21. Walkin' Blues [*]
  22. Dry Spell Blues, Pt. 1 [*]