Various ‘True Blues’ (Telarc/Concord) 4/5

Live blues recordings are a not uncommon sight these days, but the idea of grouping together a small elite of musicians from live recordings around the United States is nonetheless a novel one and with the added bonus of several coming together on a selection of numbers. Acoustic folk-blues is the order of the day and when the line up includes prestigious names such as Taj Mahal, the best of the forty something generation with Corey Harris and Alvin Youngblood Hart and relative newcomers such as Shemekia Copeland (a minor veteran in reality since she has been performing on stage since the age of eight and professionally since fifteen) and Guy Davis and Phil Wiggins, you know you are in a for a feast of folk-blues.

Alvin Youngblood Hart is a towering presence live and that is not only referring to his six foot six frame. There is some terrific guitar playing and singing on ‘Motherless children have a hard time’, a Willie Johnson original, while ‘Gallows pole’ reprises a song that surfaced on Hart’s superb 1997 debut album ‘Big mama’s door’ and is another stand out performance. With so many of the older generation sadly passing away in recent years, the blues is in need of fresh blood and the passing of the guard is in good hands if singers of the calibre of Shemekia Copeland are anything to go by. Her soulful vocals envelop ‘Bring your fine self home’. Elsewhere Taj Mahal is his stunning self with a slightly rockier edge, though still very much in the folk-blues vein on ‘Done changed my way of living’ and is one of the few tracks to feature drums. Where this assembling of artists wins hands down is in the re-uniting of the singers collectively on some of the choicest songs. The pick of an impressive bunch is ‘Ramblin’ on my mind’ which, among others, a young Lucinda Williams covered early on in her career. This new interpretation has a classic folk-blues feel to it akin to the folk revival period of the 1960s. A separate companion DVD is available. Tim Stenhouse

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