Hot on the release of The Curse Of K.K. Hammond’s Death Roll Blues (check our review), K.K. herself joins us At The Barrier. Setting down the Resonator guitar for a short while she puts pen to paper for us, racking her brains over her Top 5 albums with a blues flavour
1. Skip James -The Complete Early Recordings of Skip James- 1930 (1994)
Skip James has always shone out to me as, easily, my favourite bluesman of all time! Skip’s falsetto voice and preferred open D minor tuning along with his stylistic intricacy, delicate guitar work, sombre lyrics and haunting delivery result in a signature style that is simply unmistakable and just so profoundly touching to me. His early recordings are my favourite and this collection features the best renditions of his songs in my opinion, most notably the early version of Devil Got My Woman. Skip changed the guitar phrasing somewhat in later recordings of this song and though it remained to be magnificent, this version irrefutably possesses you the first time you hear it. In the 2001 movie Ghost World, Steve Buscemi’s character sells a blues record featuring this song to Thora Birch’s character and she becomes somewhat obsessed with it and goes on a mission to find something like it. Steve’s character replies “there are no other records like that!”
It tickles me that the legend of this song’s magnetic power is so profound that this factor made its way into movie lore. Every song on this album is spectacular but several of my other favourite songs of all time feature on it such as Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues and Cypress Grove Blues. As a musician, I find this album a timeless treasure trove of inspiration and artistic expression as I could never tire of listening to it. It has influenced my approach to blues a great deal and a little of Skip can be heard subtly woven into many of my tracks!
2. Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings 1936-1937 (1990)
There are multiple albums showcasing this incredible artist’s considerably small catalogue but this is the particular one I keep spinning. Robert Johnson is a quintessential blues artist and his work is just such crucial listening, not only for blues aficionados but to fans of the multitude of genres it influenced going forward making it just so historically significant. Robert most certainly lingers firmly near the top of my list of favourite bluesmen .
While I feel the myth, mystery and ‘soul-selling-devil-lore’ associated with him is constantly overblown and misunderstood as fact, I like the way he plays into these metaphors with his lyrics and embraces his position as somewhat of a nomadic outcast. However, he also sings stories of love, loss and everyday life which are still so relevant today. I’m not sure I have ever heard a collection of word’s more beautiful that the lyrics “blues fallin’ down like hail” in Hellhound On My Trail. Those always really stuck with me. I don’t think it’s any wonder that Robert’s work influenced so many musicians over the years and continues to do so today.
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads (1996)
I was very young when I started listening to this album and the delivery and story telling in the lyrics delighted me and definitely had a strong hand in developing my obsession with murder ballads. The songs on the album are centred around death, murder and violence capturing raw emotion and darkness, a description you could just as well apply to my own music. I also really admired Nick’s eclectic amalgamation of musical styles and the fact that Nick collaborated with several talented female artists including PJ Harvey and Kylie Minogue, which added a unique touch to several of the tracks. It also paved the way for some of the duets I felt inspired to create such as The Ballad of Lampshade Ed and Death Roll Blues with my friend David & the Devil. The way all the songs on the album are similarly themed is more like a narrative than a collection of songs, another element of Nick’s approach that made its way onto my own album Death Roll Blues.
4. Son House – Father Of The Delta Blues: The Complete 1965 Sessions
Son House is another early blues musician who immediately captured my attention and had me spellbound. His powerful, raw vocals and organic, percussive slide guitar style are incredibly personal and human and tap straight into the deep roots and soul of the traditional African American music of the Mississippi delta. I especially love when son house uses his beautiful voice alone to deliver a song such as in John The Revelator or Grinnin’ in Your Face. I also love how he literally plays to the beat of his own drum in his rhythms. He is another master bluesman whose deeply personal lyrics visit themes of love, pain and redemption and these certainly went to heavily influence me as I developed my own musical style.
5. The Doors – The Doors (1967)
I know I’m not alone in regarding this album as one of the best in musical history and key in the development of rock music! The Doors approached the blues in such a unique and distinctive manner, something I feel is very true of all the choices I have made in my top 5 album list (which make them all appeal to me so much as someone trying to forge a new blues sound myself.) I have always admired Jim Morrison’s poetic lyrics and charismatic delivery as well as his bold and controversial (for the time anyway!) approach when it comes to dark, introspective themes such as love, death and madness. I feel this album is The Doors’ best as it features some of my favourite songs including The End, Break On Through and Alabama Song. It’s one of those albums you can play on a loop all night and never tire of.
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