Memphis Minnie Vol. 5: Complete Recorded Works (1940-1941)
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Memphis Minnie; vocal, guitar.
Includes; Little Son Joe, vocal, guitar and others…
Genres: Memphis / Chicago Blues
Informative booklet notes by Howard Rye.
After the long interval since their previous session Minnie and Joe’s June 1940 session is marked by a sense of commanding confidence, and notably inspired instrumental choruses.
The initially autobiographical Nothing In Rambling promotes commonsense, down to earth aspirations.
“You may go to Hollywood and try to get on screen,
But I’m goin’ to stay right here and eat these old turnip greens”
The reminiscent mood extends to the remarkable Ma Rainey, a tribute to an acknowledged influence who had died in December 1939. It is replete with the paradox of wondering in the first verse,
“where could Ma Rainey be”,
and making clear in the last that she is known to be dead:
“People, it sure look lonesome, since Ma Rainey been gone,
But she left little Minnie, to carry the goods on.”
And she does, to dramatic effect, when she returned to the studio nearly a year later. In My Girlish Days, with its account of the consequences of a youthful indiscretion, and Me And My Chauffeur, with its classic double entendres, are justly rated among her finest, but in truth they are not far above the general level. Down By The Riverside is not a return to gospel music but a wistful recollection of the simple life.
Though the emphasis is still on guitar duets with Son Joe, who plays acoustic guitar, with only bass for additional support the sound is more ‘urban’ than before and presages the ‘down-home blues’ styles of post-war Chicago. Five of the ten titles then recorded remained unissued and have become available only recently. Wartime trading conditions must have been responsible because the unissued sides are in no way inferior and in I Am Sailing include one of her most powerful efforts.
The poet Langston Hughes has left an impressionistic account of Minnie’s music a year later after this (Chicago Defender, 9th January 1943). “The electric guitar is very loud, science having magnified all its softness away… the rhythm fills the 230 Club with a deep and dusky heartbeat that overrides all modern amplification. The rhythm is as old as Memphis Minnie’s most remote ancestor… She grabs the microphone and yells “Hey now!” then she hits a few deep chords at random, leans forward ever so slightly over her guitar… and begins to beat out a good old steady down-home rhythm…” there is much more in this vein and it applies equally to the music captured on 12th December 1941.
Every title brings its own rewards, with a special mention perhaps for Don’t Turn The Card, with its elaborate series of references to fortune-telling, and for Son Joe’s two tracks, which show clearly why he was billed as ‘Mr. Memphis Minnie’.