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Joseph Spence: The Complete Folkways Recordings, 1958

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Album Review

These recordings of Joseph Spence, made by Samuel Charters in 1958, display one of the most inventive guitar styles ever put to tape. Spence improvised on traditional tunes in a manner comparable to African-Americans Elizabeth Cotten and Mississippi Fred McDowell, like them adding rhythmic and melodic accents and changes in unexpected ways. In addition to his guitar work, he possessed an unparalleled vocal style. The closest match is the deep-voiced blues singer Howlin' Wolf. Charters met Joseph Spence, who was well-known to people on the island of Andros in the Bahamas, somewhat unintentionally while looking for Bahamian folk music. The recordings were made with field equipment, and the sound quality reflects this. As with all field recordings, this is a blessing and a curse. The lack of a studio preserves the "authenticity" of the folk sound, while the vocals on some tracks end up too low in the mix, thus de-emphasizing one of the most interesting aspects of the music. Nonetheless, the songs on this collection are intriguing and novel, even to the seasoned folk music listener. Spence's complexity of guitar work and uniqueness of vocal style are an unmatched combination.


Born: August, 1910 in Andros, Bahama

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

Born on the island of Andrus in the Bahamas, Spence created an idiosyncratic (and inimitable) guitar style rife with percussive and improvisatory vamps around staid hymns and such "square" standards as "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer." He was a folk guitarist's Thelonious Monk, and his growling vocal...
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Joseph Spence: The Complete Folkways Recordings, 1958, Joseph Spence
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