James Shorty, “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me”

This is why I love Alan Lomax’s work. The slightly out of tune slide work and the rattle of his slide on the strings during vibrato’d notes provides more Southern gothic atmosphere than a Tom Waits or Jim White could muster. The foot stomp percussion perfectly compliments this mood. The somewhat muttered lyrics add to the sense that the listener is privy to something secret, or at least hidden. Alan Lomax deserves a lot of credit for this recording. In 1959, when the tracks for Sounds of the South were recorded, the supposed ‘unprofessionalism’ that marks this performance would never have allowed it to see the light of day in the commercial recording industry. Blues recordings in 1959 primarily consisted of electrified blues groups with a high degree of professional talent, such as the combos fronted by former Delta residents Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. (I don’t intend to slight either of those artists. I happen to love both of their catalogues.) Lomax had the foresight to record blues and folk music that would have escaped the grasp of Chicago blues labels and the Greenwich folk scene, and for this I am grateful. To be able to listen to a track such as this is to be able to listen to what is stylistically a pre-war blues song, but with the benefit of the high fidelity recording equipment of 1959. Naturally, as with any pre-war blues nerd, I love the lo-fi atmosphere of scratchy 78s; however, being able to listen to a pre-war-style track on hi-fi equipment opens up another way to think about and listen to this track’s lo-fi antecedents. And from a much broader perspective, music is music, and any recordings of music that might have escaped notice in its own time is an incredible thing. So thank you Alan Lomax, and much more importantly, thank you James Shorty. Enjoy.

James Shorty, “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me”

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Filed under Blues, Field Recordings, Lomax, Music, Post-War Blues

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