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Henry Thomas: Texas Worried Blues (Yazoo)

When time comes, as it surely does, to discuss the black songsters - those neglected figures to whom blues was merely one "new" style amongst many, then there'll always be a place in the pantheon for Henry Thomas…

Or "Ragtime Texas" as his record label dubbed him. His surviving music is a living testemonial to the rich "common stock" tradition of earlier centuries - to which both blacks & whites contributed...along w/other shadowy Reconstruction-born figures such as Stovepipe No.1, who played w/his nose, and the great Daddy Stovepipe, thee great master of the bittersweet harmonica of innocence.

He was born, we think, in 1874, predating blues by a good quarter century. And, let us not forget ragtime… For what Henry plays is rather the rootstock of ragtime - a syncopated driving & dancing chordal style of guitarwork, translated direct from earlier banjo dance styles. It's not flashy picking, by any means.

And it's got more to do w/rock'n'roll than most blues does - particularly in its singleminded dedication to the straightahead drive of the thing...

And...then there're his quills. The archaic rural American version of panpipes, he plays them in a rack - as some harmonica players do - to free the hands for guitar. With his hard strumming underneath, the curiously innocent quills piping the dancers down, and his ancient - hard, yet almost courtly - voice switching from song to song seemingly at will, there's nothing quite like hearing Ragtime Texas for the first time…

As befits a child of the Reconstruction era, rather than the much harsher Jim Crow segregationism of his adult life, his songs have a liberated feel, part of the drive that led so many blacks in that period to pull up stakes & roam - just to see what else the country had to offer. It's a spirit that he's almost alone in purveying, as so few of his generation got to record. And he was the only one to record so extensively.

If you call one CD's worth extensive. But, through this CD - beautifully remastered w/very good sound - we can just recapture a glimmering of what Nick Tosches once called "the sound of an America that was the world's last blue-skied Babylon." And which died before the birth of the blues.

John Henry Calvinist