If you’ve ever wanted to sing and play along with your favorite blues personages, Tim Duffy and assorted cohorts come to your aid on Music Maker Foundation’s latest release, Deep in the South: A Music Maker Songbook. Since 1994, Tim and wife Denise Duffy have been aiding older blues performers, providing them with financial help for their immediate needs as well as resurrecting their careers with tours and recording. The latest package from the Duffy’s foundation contains a songbook with guitar tablature as well as a 19-track CD featuring a dazzling assortment of Music Makers struttin’ their stuff.
Music Maker benefactor Taj Mahal, who has lent his influence and support since the beginning, is the big gun onboard. His version of Mississippi John Hurt’s “My Creole Belle,” a bluesy, lilting, Caribbean-soaked ode to an exotic beauty, was selected from a trunkful of treasures Duffy had recorded with Mahal while in a Houston hotel room on a 42-city tour with the Music Makers.
But there’s plenty of wattage generated by other Music Maker artists, too, including Etta Baker, Beverly Guitar Watkins, Guitar Gabriel, John Dee Holeman, Boo Hanks, and Alabama Slim.
Guitar Gabriel was Duffy’s introduction to the blues world. Gabriel, who once bragged that “I’ve played so much guitar it could make your ass hurt,” had a unique, sophisticated guitar technique rooted in Delta blues but possessing more finesse and depth than most of his peers. Gabriel shows off his skills here with “Ain’t Gonna Let No Woman,” with some quirky turnarounds, smoothing off all the rough edges for a high-stepping ode to personal freedom.
Carl Rutherford transforms “Old Rugged Cross” into a drowsy back porch foot-patter, more country than gospel, shot through with strains of Willie Nelson meandering through the vocals.
Even when you can’t see grandmotherly Beverly Watkins playing guitar behind her back or while laying down onstage, she still knocks it out vocally and instrumentally, roaring like Koko Taylor in “Back in Business,” picking out guitar licks from a couple of Alberts, King, and Collins.
This Music Maker compilation is one of the best the foundation has put out to date, an in-depth look and listen of the treasures these elders still have to offer.
Deep in the South: A Music Maker Songbook is out Sept. 23 via the Music Maker Foundation.