Document Records, an archival label based in Scotland and championed by John Peel, finds itself in a grand tradition of musical preservation, collecting and reissuing underheard nuggets of Blues, Jazz, Country and Gospel with an ear for the authenticity and academic dilligence of renowned musical preservationist Harry Smith. Their extensive catalogue is a goldmine for those seeking respite from the bland homogeniety of the modern, mainstream Country/Blues order, making available music that has inspired the burgeoning alternative Folk/Country movement, from Will Oldham to Calexico.
Their latest collection, the wonderful Yonder Come The Blues, acts as aural illustration to the book of the same name, published by Cambridge University Press. The book is an attempt by leading musical historians to trace various sources of the Blues, tracing it's African origins, the relationship between black and white American folk musics, and the development of commercially recorded Blues music.
While the CD is underpinned by undoubtedly academic concerns, the music can be enjoyed with or without an interest in the history surrounding it. The section detailing African roots traditions, largely comprised of field recordings by Paul Oliver captured in the 1960's, positively brims with the lively, syncopated rhythms and chants of the Savannah plains, swirling flutes and rattles propelled by energised tribal drumming. A highlight is an improvisation played on a Halam, a five-string chordophone, with dancing finger picking resembling the lightening quick banjo music formed in the American Appalachians.
The frenetic string music of the American South is ably represented here too, joyful hillbilly stomps recorded as early as 1927 vividly evoking the idiosyncracies of parochial rural America at the time. Elsewhere, the ghostly, spoken/sung spiritual from Reverend J.M.Gates, recorded in 1926, is severe and apocalyptic, eerily compelling.
There are bigger names here too, early blues originators such as Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Lemon Jefferson rubbing up against a young Louis Armstrong, who accompanies Bertha "Chippie" Hill, a contemporary of Bessie Smith, on cornet.
Yonder Come The Blues is an eclectic, intriguing compilation of music, rich in character and colour, overwhelmingly evocative of a particular time, place, and people. Not your usual DiS/Probe Music fare, admittedly, but all the better for it.
9Tom Eyers's Score