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Jaybird Coleman: Complete Recordings (Document DOCD-5140)


When I first read about early black music in Alabama, it was as something much more akin to the original form of slave music than the twentieth-century form of “blues”. And, although I have since discovered that there were many early black Alabama recordings that did not fit into this model, Jaybird Coleman’s solo 78s superficially did...

And not only that, but Coleman’s history appeared to live up to the decisively constrained pattern that would be expected, in this most “backward” state of the union. Managed by the Klu Klux Klan - no less - he would (undoubtedly) have been encouraged to reproduce the vilest of racial stereotypes in his recorded output.

But this, contrary to what we might expect, is not at all what Coleman delivered...

Instead, what resulted is perhaps the closest thing we have to a radical artistic reformulation of field hollers as such...with absolutely no sign of any “re-writing” to please the KKK. Having heard a wide variety of hollers myself - courtesy of the many field recordings made by the Library of Congress - I’d have to say that Coleman offers us a highly stylized & transfigured version of this form, although most historians have failed to notice this.

To be sure, he undoubtedly makes use of the basic holler pattern, but his radical use of the neo-African technique of “voice masking” is distictly different to any holler I’ve ever heard...and this is not to mention his mean - and lean - harmonica work, amongst the most expressive ever recorded. Together, they combine to create one of the most unique versions of the call-and-response pattern ever.

...and I think that acknowledgement of this fact is well overdue...

On top of this, he also performed one of the greatest harmonica duets ever - with the under-rated Ollis Martin - as well as working with perhaps the meanest jugband of all time, in the shape of the magnificent Birmingham Jug Band...their Wild Cat Squall being one of the most savage rock’n’roll cuts of the nineteen twenties.

All up, this set is one of the most unique collections of music ever recorded in the 1920s... And, although it isn’t programmed as an album - being “Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order” - I have absolutely no hesitations in recommending it to anyone who is genuinely willing to listen beyond the surface noise...because the art contained herein is truly unmistakable...




John Henry Calvinist