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Various Artists - First Came Memphis Minnie

Stony Plain Records

13 songs; 46:31 minutes

Styles: Blues Covers/Tribute Album

“Taking me under her wing,” reveals Maria Muldaur on the back cover of her latest CD, First Came Memphis Minnie, “[Victoria Spivey] endeavored to mentor me and ‘teach me the ropes.’ Of all the amazing tunes she played for me, the one that made the deepest impression on me was an old, scratchy 78 of a haunting, soulful tune called ‘Tricks Ain’t Walkin’ by Memphis Minnie. I was deeply moved by the song and immediately added it to my repertoire.” Born Lizzie Douglas in Algiers, Louisiana in 1897, Memphis Minnie’s most famous songs include “Bumble Bee,” “Hoodoo Lady” and “I Want Something for You.” Muldaur’s rendition of David Nichtern’s “Midnight at the Oasis” is her biggest claim to fame, peaking at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. But, on her newest album, Maria leaves pop and pays heartfelt tribute to Memphis Minnie’s deep blues as she performs thirteen of her compositions. She and several of her sister blues musicians co-star, including Koko Taylor, Rory Block and Ruthie Foster all backed by many special guests including Roy Rogers, Steve Freund, and Alvin Youngblood Hart.

Track 02: “Ain’t Nothin’ in Ramblin’”--Nine out of ten blues songs about “ramblin’” praise the nomadic life, but “Ain’t Nothin…’” is the magnificent tenth. Bonnie Raitt lends her crystal-clear pipes to this autobiographical number, a chronicle of Memphis Minnie’s life and travels: “I first left home, I stopped in Tennessee. The people out there come stay with me, ‘cause there ain’t nothin’ in ramblin’, even running around…” She and guitarist Steve Freund form a dynamite duo on acoustic guitars.

Track 11: “Tricks Ain’t Walkin’”--Certain people believe in “channeling,” a preternatural phenomenon where a spirit speaks through mortal men. It may or may not be real, but that’s certainly what Maria Muldaur does here with respect to Memphis Minnie! Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, the blues wasn’t Minnie’s only trade. “Oh, my money’s walking tricks, that’s what it’s all about. I’m gonna get the men in my house, and ain’t gonna let ‘em out.” There’s nothing funny about the matters discussed here, even in a tongue-in-cheek way. Want proof? Simply listen to the gravelly despair in Muldaur’s voice: “Sometimes you’ve got to just get down on your knees and moan about it sometimes.” Del Rey adds guitar with Dave Earl on mandolin.

Track 13: “Black Rat Swing”--Koko Taylor belts out her beef with an errant rodent--er, lover--on the explosive final track: “You is one black rat! One day I’ll find your trail. I’ll hide my shoes somewhere near your shirttail….” Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin guest-stars on slide guitar, making this the catchiest up-tempo tune on Muldaur’s tribute; it’s a full-band, electric Chicago blues number with Criss Johnson, Brother John Kattke, Jimmy Sutton, and Willie Hayes.

Beyond this great collection, to further enjoy Memphis Minnie and Maria Muldaur’s music, check out “The Best of Memphis Minnie, Vol. 1” for the former and “The Even Dozen Jug Band” from 1963 for the latter. Both are brilliant blues beauties!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 33 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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