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The Legend of Tommy Johnson, Act 1: Genesis 1900's-1990's

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Album Review

Inspired by his screen debut as Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Chris Thomas King takes a whirlwind tour through 80 years of blues history on this unique concept album. He begins a cappella, with a song written on the movie set but not used in the soundtrack, proceeds through several pared-down period covers (Tommy Johnson's "Canned Heat Blues" and Blind Willie Johnson's "Trouble Will Soon Be Over") and originals written and played in a similar mode, and then plugs into the postwar Chicago era and kicks up a full band for the closing tracks. Before his casting in O Brother, King specialized in a rap-blues hybrid rather than in prewar country blues, and there are many other revivalists who play in this style with more authority then he shows on, for instance, the slide piece "Flooded in the Delta" (inspired by the movie's climactic flood scene). He fares much better on "Watermelon Man," an entertaining yarn built over a Bukka White-style one-chord groove, and on electric rockers like "Do Fries Go With That Shake?" and "Red Shoes." Throughout the album, King proves himself a soulful singer and versatile multi-instrumentalist, more interested in melody than in the soloing calisthenics heard in so much contemporary blues.


Born: 14 October 1964 in Baton Rouge, LA

Genre: Blues

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

Initially known for his audacious fusion of blues and hip-hop, Chris Thomas King reached a whole new audience with the Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, not only appearing on the award-winning soundtrack but playing a prominent supporting character as well. Despite the much-celebrated, down-to-earth rootsiness of O Brother's music, King had previously been a determined progressive, hoping to reinvigorate the blues as a living African American art with a more contemporary approach and...
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The Legend of Tommy Johnson, Act 1: Genesis 1900's-1990's, Chris Thomas King
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