Various Artists

Various Artists
First Came Memphis Minnie

Stony Plains Recordings - SPCD 1358

By David Wilson
January 2014

Lizzie “Kid” Douglas, eldest of 13 was born in 1897 Louisiana. By the age of 12 she had learned to play banjo and guitar and by the time she was a teen, she was out on her own, playing on street corners and scraping by in any and all the ways street kids do, There is no way to make it pleasant or romantic.

It was nigh twenty years later while married to Kansas Joe McCoy, they were discovered by a Columbia Records agent while playing together for dimes in front of a Memphis barber shop. Wikipedia reports that it was an A&R man for Columbia who gave Lizzie the sobriquet that was to be remembered when he dubbed the pair Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie.

This compilation is clearly the work of Maria Muldaur who handles the vocals on eight of the baker’s dozen of Memphis Minnie classics. While I have yet to hear a Maria Muldaur performance, live or recorded which did not draw me in, the addition of the other performers here simply accentuates the importance of the material and how susceptible is each song to the nuances of Raitt, Block, Snow, Foster and Taylor.

From the opening “Me And My Chauffeur Blues,” a treatment Maria has long made a standard, here freshened with the guitar accompaniment of Roy Rogers , followed by the soulful lament, “Ain’t Nothing In Ramblin’,” a stunning performance by Bonnie Raitt, this release is one sparkling gem after another. Every performer seems to find a way to personalize Minnie’s material in unique fashion and while I never stopped to consider Phoebe Snow as a blues singer, her performance of “In My Girlish Days” shows a subtleness beyond any I might have expected.

Ruthie Foster’s treatment of “Keep your Big Mouth Closed” is snarky and Koko is as brassy and strident as ever closing out the set with “Black Rat Swing.”

Each of these contributing artists make their tribute as Minnie herself did, personal, poetic and passionate.

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