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I'd Rather Be the Devil - The Legendary 1931 Session

Skip James

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Album Review

They've been reissued as a piece before, and no doubt they'll be reissued together in the future. But here they are again on this 2007 compilation: all 18 surviving tracks that Skip James recorded in February 1931 for Paramount Records, which in fact represented the totality of his output on disc before he was rediscovered in the '60s. It's gotten to the point that which iteration of these sessions you prefer is probably based on the art work and the liner notes, which are perfectly fine in the case of this anthology on the British Rev-Ola label. The music remains some of the most revered pre-World War II country blues, both for the quality of James' guitar work (though he occasionally backs himself on piano) and his haunting high vocals. "I'm So Glad" and, to a lesser degree, "Devil Got My Woman" remain the only songs familiar to a non-blues specialist audience, but many of the other tunes have similar qualities that will find favor with those who like those two classics. Alas, problems with surface noise remain, though on the whole it's not a significant distraction. That's not the fault of Rev-Ola; it's quite possible no one's ever going to figure out how to make some of the tracks sound crisp and clean with even the utmost state of the art remastering technology, such is the state of the only surviving source discs. But for all its unavoidable imperfections, this body of work is a cornerstone of the acoustic Delta blues form.

Biography

Born: 21 June 1902 in Bentonia, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s

Among the earliest and most influential Delta bluesmen to record, Skip James was the best-known proponent of the so-called Bentonia school of blues players, a genre strain invested with as much fanciful scholarly "research" as any. Coupling an oddball guitar tuning set against eerie, falsetto vocals, James' early recordings could make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Even more surprising was when blues scholars rediscovered him in the '60s and found his singing and playing skills intact....
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