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Richmond Blues

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Album Review

Guitarist and singer John Cephas and harmonica player (and songwriter) Phil Wiggins have been playing together as an acoustic duo since they met in 1976, releasing their first recording in 1981, and throughout that long association they have been faithful to the Virginia Piedmont blues tradition, a tradition that owes more to the local Appalachian foothills than it does to the Mississippi Delta. A gentle mesh of ragtime, gospel, and string band reels, with traces of pop, country, and R&B as well, the Piedmont version of the blues is as easy to recognize as it is hard to accurately define. It is, in a nutshell, the folk music of Appalachian blacks from two generations ago, and this duo's mission has been to preserve and represent it. Richmond Blues is fairly typical of how Cephas & Wiggins have done that since they joined forces, and it is an easy flowing listen, steady as an Appalachian breeze, with no jarring moments. Among the high points are a gently pulsing take on the folk nugget "John Henry," a moving version of "Careless Love" (the perfect example of how a non-blues ballad with blues themes ends up being a blues song when all is sung and done), a solid "Going to the River" (originally recorded by Fats Domino in 1952), and Wiggins' own composition, "Dog Days of August." There's nothing new or revelatory about anything here. It's just Cephas & Wiggins doing what they've always done, sticking to their roots, and that's a good thing, and undeniably affirming and pleasant.


Formed: 1984 in Bowling Green, VA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

The duo of acoustic guitarist John Cephas and harpist Phil Wiggins enjoyed a partnership spanning several decades, during which time they emerged among contemporary music's most visible exponents of the Piedmont blues tradition. Both were born in Washington, D.C., although Wiggins was a quarter century younger than his partner; they met at a jam session in 1977, and both performed as regular members of Wilbert "Big Chief" Ellis' Barrelhouse Rockers for a time prior to Ellis' death. Their music, rooted...
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Richmond Blues, Cephas & Wiggins
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