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Patchman Farm Blues

Bukka White

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Album Review

The artist's face fills the front cover, with a look of quiet and desperation. Sure, he looks like he has the blues, but furthermore, he seems to be secretly begging the listener not to judge this release as his best. That's because the recordings included here date from the late '30s and early '40s, while the photography of the artist is all from the '60s, when he was rediscovered and began performing again for the blues and folk revival audience. A man of pride, White surely wanted to feel that he was doing his best work artistically in the present, not back in his younger days. Records certainly sounded better in the '60s than they did decades earlier, and some blues fans will prefer the later recordings of this artist just because of the lack of surface noise, as well as the more fully developed recorded sound of his characteristic national steel resophonic guitar. White tried very hard in his later years and made some excellent new recordings, but he was often at a loss to fulfill expectations, especially in front of live audiences. He didn't seem to have enough different variations on his song material, went off on too many weird tangents, and sometimes seemed to be in a rotten mood, which certainly seems to be a strange thing for anyone to complain about when it comes to the blues genre. Out of sympathy for this elder statesman of the Delta blues, several of whose songs provide a textbook example of the style, one wants to pick a later recording as his best, but too many chips fall on the side of these old Vocalion sides, which, despite some surface mess, have been remastered beautifully. The tracks in which White is accompanied by Washboard Sam are really fantastic, representing some of the best country blues one can find, rhythmically snappy and melodically clear. In terms of the musical styles that White employed, they are all here: The basis for every single song he ever recorded, if not the song itself, is included among these 14 tracks. "Where Can I Change My Clothes," one of the best songs about prison, is included along with White's unique version of "Parchman Farm." The former song was one he re-recorded in the '60s, releasing it under the latter title: Neither song is the same as the "Parchman Farm" blues standard that was later satirized by Mose Allison and obliterated by Blue Cheer. One of the great things about White's style is his vocals. His pronunciation and accent are fascinating. Take the way he pronounces the title of "district attorney" in the song of the same name. As well, he could be the only blues singer to deliver the following couplet and make it sound like it actually rhymes: "Doctor, put that temperature gauge under my tongue/And tell me, all I need is my baby's lovin' arms." The use of photographs of White as an old man to accompany music he recorded when he was young may not be completely inappropriate, but it is a bit misleading. The lengthy liner notes are superb.

Biography

Born: 12 November 1906 in Houston, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Bukka White (true name: Booker T. Washington White) was born in Houston, Mississippi (not Houston, Texas) in 1906 (not any date between 1902-1905 or 1907-1909, as is variously reported). He got his initial start in music learning fiddle tunes from his father. Guitar instruction soon followed, but White's grandmother objected to anyone playing "that Devil music" in the household; nonetheless, his father eventually bought him a guitar. When Bukka White was 14 he spent some time with an uncle in Clarksdale,...
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