Skip James - Studio Sessions: Rare and Unreleased. - sound recording review
Skip James was the most eerily soulful artist in blues. The sound of his thin falsetto, crying out over his unique minor-key guitar arrangements transcended any limitations of genre. His two Vanguard LPs in the 1960s proved him to be the only one of the "rediscovered" recording artists from the early blues era who had continued to develop as an artist, creating new songs and reshaping his older classics. As this album proves, though, there was more to the story. As well as being the brilliant individualist represented on his early releases, James was also a professional entertainer and a man of his times. Here, we hear him playing Hoagy Carmichael's "Lazy Bones," Bessie Smith's "Backwater Blues," Lemon Jefferson's "One Dime Blues," and borderline pop like "Omaha Blues" and "Somebody Loves You." He divides his accompaniments pretty evenly between piano and guitar, further proving his unmatched facility on both instruments, and occasionally adapting riffs from one for the other, as with the "Cow Cow Boogie" licks he transplants to guitar to accompany "My Last Boogie." On the whole, though, it is the piano material that is most striking. We have already heard James's greatest guitar work, and the accompaniments here are much of a piece with other recordings, but the range of his piano playing is not nearly as well known, and the tracks here suggest that at Mississippi juke joints he probably did better as a keyboard man. Obviously, these are not "better" than the classic, deep, soul blues numbers for which James is famous, but they provide welcome balance, introducing a range of tastes and abilities that would not be imagined from numbers like "Devil Got My Woman." To round out the package, there are also a half-dozen Gospel hymns, showing yet another facet of this extraordinary artist.