Textbooking the Blues- a review of Paul Oliver’s Barrelhouse Blues: Location Recording and the Early Traditions of the Blues
Not exactly a book for your night stand. This is a small but heavy treatise from the Barrelhouse Blues series that has brought us a number of excellent volumes chronicling various aspects of the Blues. This volume, written by Paul Oliver, a blues historian and author since the early 60s, focuses on field recording in the history of the blues.
Acknowledging lesser known artists from the Grand Ole Opry’s De Ford Bailey to the obscure and near mythical George Washington Phillips and Geeshie Wiley, the language and presentation of the information is dense and clinical without the personality befitting it’s subject. The book is chock full of information and serves as an excellent reference guide for either discovering artists on the fringes of the location recording era or seeking out specific information on sessions or specific releases of artists whose careers later crossed over to the mainstream. Unfortunately, Oliver relies (perhaps too heavily) on his reputation as a Blues authority and/or outdated research, no doubt collected during his not insignificant career in music journalism. The volume however, like so many heavy handed school textbooks, is not without it’s inaccuracies.
I was disappointed not to find more information on techniques employed in those rural recording situations as the title seemed to suggest. Don’t get me wrong; this volume is well worth the “price of admission” if you are heavy into Blues history, but it’s not for the casual reader. The Barrelhouse Blues series is a valuable asset and I hope the music community will continue to put it’s support behind projects like this with fresh, young writers as well. It is documents like this that go a long way in helping preserve so many near-forgotten aspects of our cultural heritage. So, until the next volume of the Barrelhouse Blues series remember to…
Live Well & Listen Closely,
NOTE: For the most detailed information available on the aforementioned George Washington Phillips see Michael Corcoran’s piece from 2002 here: http://www.minermusic.com/dolceola/corcoran.htm
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