Skip JAMES – Hard Time Killing Floor Blues 1964

Skip JAMES – Hard Time Killing Floor Blues 1964
2003 Issue.


Hard Time Killing Floor Blues was the first session Skip James recorded following his rediscovery by John Fahey and Henry Vestine in the mid-’60s. Though he had not played the blues for more than 20 years, his skills were largely undiminished, and he turns in a fantastic set here. James was the pinnacle of the Bentonia (Mississippi) sound, which combines complex fingerpicking with falsetto vocals, resulting in somewhat spooky-sounding strain of blues. James reprises several of his 1931 Paramount sides on this session, as well as a couple new tunes that chronicle the illnesses of James’ latter days. Anyone with a passing interest in acoustic blues should own some James. This set would make a great starting point, especially for those who don’t take well to the surface noise that can accompany his ’30s sessions. The new mastering here sounds rich and warm. Highly recommended. [This set was previously released as Biograph 122, with a different running order.]
By Sean Westergaard, All Music Guide.
Nehemiah Curtis ‘Skip’ James is credited as the founder of the ‘Bentonia school’ of Delta blues. In reality, James was the full embodiment of this idiom, and Biograph’s ‘Greatest of the Delta Blues Singers’ is an excellent overview. The CD contains 12 songs James recorded in one sitting at Falls Church, VA, on December 16, 1964. These were the first recordings James had made since being ‘rediscovered’ in a Mississipi hospital earlier that year. On the track list are six works from the early days of Skip James’ career, including the classics ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,’ ‘Devil Got My Woman,’ ‘Cherry Ball Blues,’ and ‘Cypress Grove Blues.’ The remaining songs are either reworked Delta standards or newer material written by James. The listener will not be disappointed; the digital transfer of this recording is as impressive as the performances. ‘Hardtime Killing Floor Blues’ is considered by some as the penultimate Depression era song, and James’ eerie performance here suggests what could be the lament of the downtrodden for all ages. His aged voice soars in a lonely falsetto against the backdrop of ominous bass string lines and nervous upper string picking. The guitar work throughout maintains this constant tension between low register anger and high-pitched fear. James’ voice sounds as if it seeks escape from theses dark extremes. Unlike other Delta artists, James did not use a slide. His was an elaborate finger-picking style more akin to Piedmont bluesmen like Brownie McGhee and Cephas & Wiggins. He was also fond of using drop E tuning and dissonant solos to heighten the tension of his music. ‘Sick Bed Blues,’ written after James was diagnosed with cancer, contains passages where his guitar intentionally gallops away off-key, dramatically suggesting the artist’s reaction to learning of his terminal illness. ‘Greatest of the Delta Blues Singers’ is not for the faint of heart. If genuine, painful blues is what the listener wants to experience, it doesn’t get more brazen than this. Skip James was not simply the purveyor of a unique style; his music in many ways reflects the darkest shades of human nature.
By Chuck Hicks.
This remastered edition of Skip James’ 1964 Biograph LP GREATEST OF THE DELTA BLUES SINGERS is a testament to how well his material as aged over the past four decades. James first recorded for Paramount in 1931 and then virtually disappeared until 1964 when (among others) John Fahey rescued him from obscurity. It had been nearly 20 years since James was convinced to perform at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. His reception prompted him to enter the recording studio for the first time in 30 years. The result is this amazing album. Twelve stellar songs featuring James’ haunting falsetto and stunning picking. There’s an eerie quality to James’ music that will give you chills. One listen will convince you. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
By Steve Vrana.
01. Hard Time Killing Floor Blues 3:27
02. Sick Bed Blues 3:39
03. Washington D.C. Hospital Center Blues 4:19
04. Devil Got My Woman 6:19
05. Illinois Blues 3:41
06. I Don’t Want A Woman To Stay Up All Night Long 4:45
07. Cherry Ball Blues 3:54
08. Skip’s Worried Blues 4:22
09. Cypress Grove Blues 4:08
10. Catfish Blues 3:32
11. Motherless & Fatherless 4:08
12. All Night Long 4:58

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