The School holidays are upon us and as is my wont I’m about to cross the ocean to a far away Isle where we can stretch out in the sun, sip something cool and refreshing and relax for a blessed fortnight.
The taxi is booked and the cases are nearly packed. Before we take off there’s only one last thing to do – make sure that the faithful patrons of the Immortal Jukebox are left supplied with nourishing thoughts and sounds while I see how burnished and golden an Irish complexion can become in two weeks.
So I’ve dropped my spare nickels on some records intended to ensure your hips and hearts get a good workout while I’m away. All these selections feature women artists who, without false modesty, stand front and centre playing a mean guitar while singing with passion and authority. All of these artists deserve, and will get a post devoted to themselves later. But, in the meantime … Ladies and Gentlemen it’s the Swinging Summer Sisters Jubilee Festival!
To kick thing off we have Sister Rosetta Tharpe – a woman who was a force of nature (if there hasn’t been a hurricane Rosetta yet there should have been) defying all attempts to contain her ebullient personality and musical largesse within genre categories. So she was a glorious gospel singer, a rowdy rhythm and blues shouter and a proto rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll guitar hero. Whatever the nominal tradition she was working within the good sister believed in turning the dials up to 11 and barrelling straight at you!
She became a star of the gospel world in the 1930s and as the decades proceeded her work brought her a wider and more diverse audience all thrilling to the allure of her overwhelming talent and charisma. The clip below is from a 1960s TV show. Later in 1964 she was in England as part of one of those missionary blues and gospel tours that were like musical manna for devout fans who had previously only known of the legendary artists from hard to find records – look out for videos of her electric performance at a railway station with ranks of serried music buffs watching her across the tracks!
Raise the roof Sister, raise the roof!
Next up from Beaumont Texas the sultry smoky tones of the wonderful Barbara Lynne. The song is her self penned classic, ‘Youll lose a good thing’ a big R&B hit from 1962 featuring her assured left handed guitar playing. This one will slay you!
In a sense this is an answer record to all those, ‘slippin around’ soul braggarts who never seemed to think of the woman left at home while they were illicitly trysting at the dark end of the street. Well, in this song Barbara makes the case in the most dignified, enticing and winning terms for the woman scorned. Anyone listening to her incandescent entreaty here must think the guy in question would be a world class fool if he let this pearl slip through his fingers. Something in the grain of Barbara’s voice lodges in your mind and grips your heart – once heard you’re never going to forget her. I am not one for giving out too much advice but I do advise you to listen to and buy as many Barbara Lynne records as you possibly can – it’ll be an investment in emotional musical maturity that will pay you long term dividends.
Our next artist, flame haired mighty guitar mama Boonie Raitt, needs very little introduction having had several career flowerings and triumphs over a forty year plus career. She’s a time served blues veteran who can conjure up the spirits of Memphis Minnie and Sippie Wallace and trade licks and innuendos with John Lee Hooker himself. Her tender or tormented slide guitar is integral to her sound and she loves to lean into a solo wrenching every ounce of musical meaning from the instrument.
Bonnie is a great interpretative singer with a keen ear for songs that have real emotional weight and reach. She can soar and swoop vocally to accent the strident or the seductive. Her voice now has a vintage aged in the wood quality that admits to vulnerability while maintaining impressive strength.
She has recorded the definitive cover of Richard Thompson’s aching folk standard, ‘The Dimming Of The Day’, the classic modern break – up rock ballad, ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ and the knock ’em dead in the aisles swooner, ‘Love Has No Pride’. She has judiciously looted the song catalogues of John Hiatt and Paul Brady and has latterly moved onto the territory of the great American Songkeper himself – Bob Dylan.
To represent Bonnie I’ve chosen her take on fellow blues stylist Chris Smither’s, ‘Love Me Like A Man’. This is a performance by an artist wholly in command of her talent, her material and her audience.
Finally an artist, Lucinda Williams who wouldn’t comprehend the meaning of half hearted if she tried. I first saw her in London sometime in the early 1980s when she supported Mary Chapin Carpenter. The latter presented her literate, beautifully crafted song/stories with exemplary professionalism. However, it was Lucinda’s passionate intensity that really struck home to the extent that I virtually ran from the concert to the nearest record shop to buy all her available albums!
Lucinda’s music is firmly grounded in the southern verities of the blues and deep dyed country with added rock stylings. The shades of Hank Williams and Charlie Patton surround her approvingly as she plays. She has written at least one classic song – the gut wrenching elegy, ‘Sweet Old World’ and her take on Nick Drake’s, ‘Which Will’ is a magical recording that hangs in the air around you long after it has finished.
Lucinda sings from the core of her being and when she is on she is a mesmerising performer who will have you holding your breath one minute, crying the next then reeling home wondering how she does it. There’s no one like her.
I’ve chosen her boozy, bluesy reverie, ‘Big Red Sun’ to close out this post. A Lucinda Williams concert is the kind where you might find easily yourself falling in or out of love, falling down and not noticing and wonder the next morning why your head hurts yet you still sport an ear splitting grin. Feel free to take the top of the Tequila bottle and sway along.