Listen Up: Wednesday, August 1, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Big Bill Broonzy

Big Bill Broonzy In Concert with Graeme Bell & His Australian Jazz Band (Jasmine Records)

By Matthew Smith

Big Bill Broonzy did it all. He recorded hundreds of blues, folk, and country songs from the 1920s through the ’50s. Some of his tracks even sound like early rock ’n’ roll. From the Mississippi plantations to the record studio, he was the Real McCoy.

He was the only original bluesman to pen an autobiography (worth a read if you can find it). He played a huge role in the growth of the Chicago blues sound and was one of the first blues artists to tour Europe. Since his 1958 death, however, Broonzy has been largely forgotten. And that’s a damn shame. Musically, he equals and sometimes surpasses B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters (who recorded an album of Broonzy tunes), and most any other blues legend — hell, most any other musical giant, regardless of genre.

This disc, representing his first European concert from 1951 in Germany, helps explain why. The show — captured lovingly, although recorded on primitive equipment — contains none of the dry boredom frequently associated with such historic documents. In fact it swings, rocks, and grooves. Thanks to Broonzy’s soaring, rich voice and the recording’s sound quality, it feels as though he’s singing to you from 10 feet away. Throughout, Broonzy laughs half-nervously and half-joyously, tells stories (for some reason, he finds it important to tell the crowd how old he is, to the month), pokes fun at the blues (“If you ever get so blue you wanna kill yourself, this is your song”), and says “Thank you” so often you lose count. “Mama Don’t Allow” is a Sly Stone “Dance to the Music”-style early rave-up that affords each musician a mini-solo. The fretwork on “John Henry” makes Broonzy look like an early guitar hero. And “I Feel So Bad,” which features a rollicking boogie piano and bouncy verve, just dares you to sit still.

This c.d. makes for a good introduction to his work, and Jasmine plans a double c.d. of 1952 English concerts soon. However, those unfamiliar with Broonzy may want to seek a best-of collection since many of his best-known songs (e.g. “Key to the Highway,” “Black, Brown and White”) don’t appear here. Either way, those with any interest in the blues or just plain great music should seek out Broonzy immediately. You’ll not only love the music, you’ll probably wonder why you’ve never heard of the guy.

The Graeme Bell Band, by the way, plays Dixieland jazz and is whip-crack good. I can appreciate such music — in small spurts. There’s just too much noodling here. But early big-band jazz lovers will likely enjoy the c.d.’s Bell portions as much as the Broonzy material.


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