July 26, 2005

Album Review

With an elegant guitar style that helped bridge country blues and the more modern urban R&B sound while at the same time keeping a dialogue going between jazz and the blues, Lonnie Johnson was one of the most important guitarists of his generation. He recorded hundreds of sides for OKeh, Decca, and Bluebird between 1925 and 1945, and participated in scores more as a session man for the likes of Duke Ellington and others. By the mid-'40s he had switched from acoustic to electric guitar and had signed with Cincinnati's King Records, recording several successful ballads for the label between 1947 and 1950, the period covered by this anthology. He never completely abandoned the blues, however, and while some of his King ballads are included here (like his big 1948 R&B hit "Tomorrow Night"), a good portion of these tracks are country blues standards posing in uptown clothes. Prime examples include the solo "Backwater Blues" and the Appalachian blues classic "Little Rockin' Chair," both of which have long lineages, and his cover of the Delmore Brothers' "Trouble Ain't Nothin' But the Blues," which doesn't have a long history as a song, but in Johnson's hands it sounds like it could have. Johnson left King in 1950, recording a few sides for Rama Records before the changing tastes of record buyers made his style seem obsolete, and he left the recording business in 1954, moving to Philadelphia, where he supported himself doing custodial work until the folk-blues revival of the 1960s brought him out of musical retirement. As a guitarist, Johnson's most important work will always be his early acoustic sides (Columbia's Steppin' On the Blues is a good set in that regard, as is Snapper's Playing With the Strings), although as a singer -- and he was a very good vocalist, with a rough-edged yet easy elegance -- his time with King, when he began to concentrate more on ballads, may well be his finest hour.
Steve Leggett, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. I Am So Glad
  2. What a Woman
  3. Tomorrow Night
  4. Friendless Blues
  5. I Want My Baby
  6. What a Real Woman
  7. Fallin' Rain Blues
  8. Feeling Low Down
  9. Drunk Again
  10. Jelly Roll Baker
  11. Working Man's Blues
  12. Chicago Blues
  13. Feel So Lonesome
  14. Tell Me Little Woman
  15. Backwater Blues
  16. Careless Love
  17. She's So Sweet
  18. Trouble Ain't Nothin' But the Blues
  19. Little Rockin' Chair
  20. Nothin' Clickin' Chicken
  21. Nothing But Trouble
  22. Me and My Crazy Self
  23. Seven Long Days
  24. Just Another Day
  25. You Can't Buy Love
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