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Blind James Campbell & his Nashville Street Band (Arhoolie 438)


They - really! - don’t make ‘em like this, anymore...

Now, “loose as a goose” has always been a particular favourite of mine (amongst rural metaphors) but, before I heard this particular combo, I’d yet to - genuinely - understand the exact nature of that damn goose we was all referring to...

[because, and - make no mistake - this is one seriously loose goose]

You want string band/you want jass band/you want whateverthehell suits - but, loose? Then, my friends, there’s really only one band for you...and that, my friends, was run by the great Blind James Campbell. Composed of what were (clearly) a bunch of old reprobates - the oldest of which admitted to nearly eighty years of age - their repertoire unabashedly mixed ancient folksongs & ancient popsongs...not to mention blues, hillbilly, jazz, proto-R&B & spirituals in the way that all such old-time bands did...stylistic “purity” being (thankfully) unknown...

And, even more importantly, they brought a genuinely-raucous spirit to their “work”, which is all-too-evidently missing from their younger, and much, much better-behaved heirs. Just have a quick listen to “Have I Stayed Away Too Long” - the first (yet, hardly the best) cut on this stupendous collection. Hear that fiddle, that sounds like the beast was still attached to the strings...or the opening salvo from Blind James hisself - a sly groan that announces, better than any words, the sheer indominable spirit that will characterize this joyous set - and, you will (truly) understand exactly why this is one of my all-time favourite albums...

To be sure, earlier bands - particularly Southern jugbands - also epitomize this spirit...but, unfortunately, most listeners have difficulty dealing w/the old sound of scratchy 78s...making them a difficult pick fer party music. In contrast, this set was recorded in 1962/3 by the great Chris Strachwitz... and, so, the rollicking (and, of course) rolling is flagrantly evident to all...

Look, every time I play this beast to “outsiders” - those who’ve never heard the truly-unbuttoned vernacular musics of the old South - they (invariably) love this stuff...bum notes, raw timbres & all... Because, when all’s said & done, this speaks to the veritable roots of the music of today - and, in a way that is purely inclusive and joyous... Make no mistake, no matter what you’ve heard before, this is, by far, the best way into to the roots of what has made American music great. And, you’d be a fool to miss it...




John Henry Calvinist