March 4, 2024

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6 CD review: Blues Like Showers Of Rain – A Compendium Of The Finest British Country Blues Artists – 2023: Video, CD cover

For lovers of British Country Blues this extensive collection will be like Christmas morning squared. It is all presented in pristine sound.

The 12th and final set of 6CDs in this monumental 72 CD celebration of African/American blues and gospel music concludes with British blues from the blues boom years of the 1960s and ‘70s. All the original Matchbox Blues albums were released as vinyl LPs in the early years of Saydisc and the first album to be released on the dedicated Matchbox Blues label was in 1968.

This album was ‘Blues Like Showers Of Rain’ and featured the best of British blues artists at that time. It was a groundbreaking release and was taken up by John Peel and leading music journalists and created quite a stir at the time. A Vol 2 followed and further albums by Dave Peabody, Mike Cooper, Ian A Anderson, Tight Like That and other British blues artists.

The kicker is that it isn’t all just country blues. There are acoustic blues guitar guys, jug bands, piano players, rags, a bit of hokum and a few surprises to boot. I am familiar with some of the names and musical reputations here, but I have heard little of their music until now. I have heard of Jo-Ann and Dave Kelly, Bob Hall and Ian A. Anderson (Not the Jethro Tull guy, the other one).

Going in one may think this is a collection of boring guitar folkies, but you would be wrong. These are talented artists all. From skilled guitar finger-pickers to goofy jug bands to energy-charged piano masters. I found myself tapping the occasional toe. This music draws you in. There are covers and variations on classic blues, as well as original songs. A few nice surprises as well. There are some instrumentals to give variety to the proceedings.

The most represented country blues purveyors here are Dave Peabody, Ian A. Anderson, Mike Cooper and Simon and Steve. That is not to downplay the quality of those with fewer tracks. Many of the songs are collaborations of various musicians. Steve Rye of Simon and Steve pops up all over to lend his harmonica expertise to various musicians, as well contributing one vocal-harmonica piece on his own. Covers of the blues innovators include the ubiquitous Robert Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Tampa Red, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Boy Fuller, Skip James and Blind Blake. Some of the titles are altered, such as “Write Me A Few Of Your Lines” becomes “A Few Short Lines”. Occasionally you witness the lyrical inbreeding that was a usual practice among the old-time innovators.

It is needless to say that I won’t be commenting on every one of the over one hundred songs. Here are some of my personal favorites of the more traditional country blues performances. Dave Kelly and Mike Cooper offer great versions of “A Few Short Lines”. Dave’s sister Jo-Ann Kelly, one of the few female country blues singers of this era, does a good turn on Memphis Minnie’s “Nothin’ In Ramblin’”. She also does an unaccompanied and dark “Black Mary”. The only other female included in this collection is Frances McGillivray. She was a vocalist and is accompanied on guitars here by Mick Burke & Mikel Kooper. Her hearty vocal energizes “It Hurts Me Too” and “Rambling Man”.

Mike Cooper and Ian A. Anderson were among the most well-known artists of the era. Ian’s vocals and guitar shine on “Rowdy Blues”, “Big Road Blues”, “Little Queen Of Spades” and “Beedle Um Bum”, among others. He is joined by Elliot Jackson on harmonica on a few tunes. Al Jones shares vocals and guitar on the latter. There is also an uncredited person playing kazoo. Mike Cooper’s approach is similar to that of Ian A. Anderson. His finger-picked guitar skills and vocals are well represented on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Black Snake Moan”, “One Time Blues”, “The Way I Feel”, among others. His original guitar instrumental puts his guitar skills out there. Another of his instrumental numbers “The Inverted World” also has Ian A. Anderson on guitar and Chris Turner on harmonica.

Singer, guitarist, harmonica player and songwriter Dave Peabody also has quite a presence here. His performances include “Death Letter”, “Love In Vain”, and Big Maceo’s “Worried Life Blues”. Two curious inclusions by him that are not usually associated with the blues are Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” and Rufus Thomas’s “Walking The Dog”.

The Panama Limited Jug Band and Tight Like That honor the jug band tradition with their collection of feel good tunes featuring kazoos, washboard, jug and all manor of percussion. Songs like “Wildcat Squall” and “Muskrat Ramble”. One song by Tight Like That jumped out at me-“If I Had A Talking Picture Of You”. It was done by many acts in the twenties, but the first time I heard it was by The New Vaudeville Band.

Piano players also make a great impression too with the likes of Bob Hall, Diz Watson and Quentin Williams. They do solo instrumentals and/or accompany others. Damn, these guys can play!

A variety of instruments show up all over the place: violin, saxophone, harmonica, mandolin, banjo and assorted percussion instruments.

I barely scratched the surface of the treats in store here. Everything here is well worthy of a listen. Here are a few: Al Jones, Little Brother Steve, Simon & Steve, Pigsty Hill Light Orchestra…on and on. Pick out your own favorites. Not a lemon in the bunch! Saydisc has done a real “bang up” job with this compilation.

“This, the twelfth (and concluding) 6-CD set of Matchbox reissues, documents not the original US blues recordings of the 1920s and 1930s but the British music scene which they inspired. Ian Anderson (later editor of Folk Roots, but in the late 1960s a sparkplug firing up the country blues scene in Bristol and beyond with his own performances and indefatigable promotional activities) introduces the set with a characteristically enthusiastic and highly informative essay. “Suddenly in 1968 the blues and folk worlds found that they had produced a number of artists singing the country blues of the 1920s and ’30s perfectly in the idiom, but with a quality and personal involvement which lifted them far above the level of mere copyists,” is how he remembers this heady time, and (the best of) the passionate, committed music caught on these six CDs of British blues and associated music goes some way towards vindicating his claim. The British Blues Revival is justly celebrated for its respectful and spirited championing of a cruelly neglected artform (and for its spawning of rock behemoths such as the Rolling Stones and Cream), but on the evidence provided by these CDs, its major achievement was in sending a whole generation of listeners back to the originals of Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Sonny Boy Williamson et al.”  London Jazz News, Chris Parker

“To say that the Matchbox Bluesmaster series is special would not even come close in describing their importance: these twelve sets have made up one of the finest (and historically important) packages of original blues ever released. To any blues fan, these sets are surely simply the Golden Nuggets of the blues! Every one of these discs contains absolute blues gems – diamonds to any blues lover of course, but also to those yet unaware of the impact the blues has had on so many areas of modern music… Years ahead of what was to develop into what we now term blues-rock, the artists featured throughout this set brought a standard like never before to the British and European blues scenes. Throughout, the recorded sound is of the very highest standard, and this is not so much a history of British blues of the I 960s, it’s a set that truly demonstrates what put British blues on the map: not so much where it began, but when British blues really did equal the best of blues, anywhere… Totally unmissable, it’s thanks to our friends at Saydisc for releasing every one of these sets, because this is the blues and how!” Blues In BritainPete Clack

“I wasn’t too familiar with the British “country blues” scene of the 1960s and early 1970s, and based on its American counterpart I didn’t expect much.  Thus I was very pleasantly surprised at how generally good the music was, much better than most of its white American counterpart.  There were a lot fewer of the annoying mannerisms of so many of the American artists and a lot less superficiality.  The British performers really made an effort to get into the spirit and style of the original music and largely succeeded.  Of course, there were some exceptions, but on the whole this is very enjoyable both from a musical and historical standpoint.  And you are the star of the show!  I didn’t realize you had recorded so much way back then.  Excellent notes too by you and Ian A. Anderson.  I hope this set gets some recognition and awards.  I liked the jug band tracks too, with a serious blues sound rather than the corny hokum approach of so many American revivalist jug bands.” David Evans, Professor of Music Emeritus, The University of Memphis and author of Big Road Blues

“This, the twelfth (and concluding) 6-CD set of Matchbox reissues, documents not the original US blues recordings of the 1920s and 1930s but the British music scene which they inspired. Ian Anderson (later editor of Folk Roots, but in the late 1960s a sparkplug firing up the country blues scene in Bristol and beyond with his own performances and indefatigable promotional activities) introduces the set with a characteristically enthusiastic and highly informative essay. “Suddenly in 1968 the blues and folk worlds found that they had produced a number of artists singing the country blues of the 1920s and ’30s perfectly in the idiom, but with a quality and personal involvement which lifted them far above the level of mere copyists,” is how he remembers this heady time, and (the best of) the passionate, committed music caught on these six CDs of British blues and associated music goes some way towards vindicating his claim. The first two CDs stand head and shoulders above the last four. They are taken from two Matchbox albums, Blues Like Showers of Rain, recorded in Frenchay on the outskirts of Bristol in 1968. Singer/guitarist Jo-Ann Kelly is pictured on the album sleeve, but it is her brother, Dave Kelly, who kicks the first volume’s proceedings off with a spirited visit to Eli Green’s “A Few Short Lines”, setting his wailing vocals against driving bottleneck guitar. Jo-Ann Kelly interprets her chief inspiration Memphis Minnie’s “Nothin’ in Ramblin’” with great panache and does an unaccompanied version of “Black Mary”…

The third CD features Cooper and Anderson picking their way through a selection of familiar country blues numbers (anomalously attributed on the original album not to individual blues composers but “trad.”). Cooper’s guitar playing, as ever, is simply faultless throughout…

CD 6 is mostly Peabody (highlights: neat rags with great mandolin playing from Dave Griffiths), but is notable chiefly for containing four cuts by the eccentric but adept ragtime pianist Quentin Williams, whose intriguing originals are as quirky as his suggestion that they are played with “plyers and a molewrench”.

Various Artists, “Blues Like Showers of Rain” (Saydisc) – The final offering in Saydisc’s excellent Matchbox Bluesmaster series is a 6 CD anthology focussing attention on some of the British country blues performers who were playing their trade on vinyl between the years of 1966 and 1976. The great Jo-Ann Kelly and her brother Dave of Blues Band fame set the ball rolling in fine style with their impassioned renditions of Memphis Minnie’s “Nothin’ in Ramblin” and Eli Green’s “A Few Short Lines” respectively, and this beautifully packaged collection also boasts excellent contributions from long forgotten figures such as The Panama Limited Jug Band, bottleneck guitarist Mike cooper and eccentric Bristol pianist Quentin Williams.

Disc 1: Blues Like Showers Of Rain (Vol.1)
Disc 2: Blues Like Showers Of Rain (Vol.2)
Disc 3: The Inverted Word
Disc 4: Blues Miscellany: Searchin’ The Desert For The Blues
Disc 5: Hokum Miscellany: Selling That Stuff
Disc 6: Ragtime And Miscellaneous: The Nailbreaker

 Matchbox Bluesmaster Series Set 12: Blues Like Showers Of Rain - a compendium of the finest British Country Blues Artists

 Matchbox Bluesmaster Series Set 12: Blues Like Showers Of Rain - a compendium of the finest British Country Blues Artists

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