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Blues Masters, Vol. 7: Blind Willie McTell

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Album Review

No one less than Bob Dylan penned the lyric that stated, "nobody can sing the blues, like Blind Willie McTell." McTell's '20s and '30s work reminds one slightly of Robert Johnson's work in the '30s, with notable differences. While McTell has the same dexterity as a guitarist, combining single-note runs with rhythmic aplomb, his singing is never as shrill or as tortured as Johnson. Still, it's easy to imagine that Johnson might have picked up something in timing and delivery from "Death Cell Blues." For many listeners, this less intense approach will make Blind Willie's classic sides more accessible than his better-known counterpart. In fact, McTell, overall, is a more rounded performer, ranging from down-and-out blues like "Mama, Tain't Long fo' Day" to humorous fare like "Three Women Blues." The Best of Blind Willie McTell captures these and many other moods over the course of 23 sides from the bluesman's heyday. The variety, in fact, makes McTell much more compelling over the album's 70-minute running time than a singer like Blind Lemon Jefferson. The best-known piece here is "Statesboro Blues," a song later written large by the Allman Brothers on Live at Fillmore East. McTell's version is much more down-to-earth and immediate, highlighted by a soulful vocal and intense guitar work. The Best of Blind Willie McTell easily verifies the Dylan lyric, and is a great introduction to a fine blues singer and guitarist. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi


Born: May 5, 1901 in Thomson, GA

Genre: Blues

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

Willie Samuel McTell was one of the blues' greatest guitarists, and also one of the finest singers ever to work in blues. A major figure with a local following in Atlanta from the 1920s onward, he recorded dozens of sides throughout the '30s under a multitude of names -- all the better to juggle "exclusive" relationships with many different record labels at once -- including Blind Willie, Blind Sammie, Hot Shot Willie, and Georgia Bill, as a backup musician to Ruth Mary Willis. And those may not...
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