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Leroy Carr Vol. 4 (1932-1934)

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Album Review

People living in the early 21st century would do well to consider complete immersion in more than an hour's worth of vintage Vocalion blues records made during the darkest days of the Great Depression by pianist Leroy Carr and guitarist Scrapper Blackwell. Vol. 4 in Document's Complete Recorded Works of Leroy Carr contains 23 sides dating from March 1932 through August 1934, with three takes of "Mean Mistreatin' Mama" (suffused with a mood that almost certainly inspired Big Maceo's sound) and an extra version of Carr's beautifully straightforward "Blues Before Sunrise." This is not a "get up and shake your butt" kind of collection, and anyone who complains that it isn't has missed the entire point of historic blues appreciation altogether. In order to connect with this music you need to take a few deep breaths and let these men work on your nervous system with songs that hover and contemplate existence in the middle of the night (as in "Midnight Hour Blues"' "when the blues creep up on you and carry your mind away"), sometimes upgrading to the purposeful lope or the brisk walk, depending on what kind of real-life stuff is being processed. "Hold Them Puppies" and "You Can't Run My Business No More" seem to pulse with energy born of the friction that sometimes arises between two people who don't always see eye to eye. "Court Room Blues" is a boogie with complications in the air; "Take a Walk Around the Corner" is a boogie with murder in its eye. "I Ain't Got No Money Now" is a handsome cousin to Clarence "Pinetop" Smith's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." As for "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," Carr has borrowed the title from the bedrock of African-American spirituals, but the song itself, like "Hurry Down Sunshine," "Moonlight Blues," and more than half the material on this collection, is a slow bluesy rumination on the difficulties of life in the world.


Born: 27 March 1905 in Nashville, TN

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s

The term "urban blues" is usually applied to post-World War II blues band music, but one of the forefathers of the genre in its pre-electric format was pianist Leroy Carr. Teamed with the exemplary guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in Indianapolis, Carr became one of the top blues stars of his day, composing and recording almost 200 sides during his short lifetime, including such classics as "How Long, How Long," "Prison Bound Blues," "When the Sun Goes Down," and "Blues Before Sunrise." His blues were...
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