At first it’s all the same: very short songs, one singer, one guitar, one set of musical parameters that varies only a little. Then the listener gets drawn in, and the variety reveals itself. Mr. Johnson teases an infinite amount of detail from within these narrow confines. The voice changes from rough “gut bucket” growling (almost throat-singing) to nearly operatic and back again within a single syllable – and whatever style is needed, is always needed RIGHT THEN, exactly at the moment in appears. Often he sings one falsetto note, perfectly placed. (The lyrics are almost always about hardship and misery, though the enthusiastic singing often masks those feelings with beautiful artistry.) The guitar likewise is a lesson in subtlety; differing techniques mean that backing chords and foreground improvisations have different timbres (the latter can sound almost Indian – blues and ragas seem to be twin daughters of different mothers); careful listening reveals flat and “blue notes” that are different in pitch-bending or actual intonation, depending on which direction the scale is going. The combined result of all of this is that this collection is endlessly fascinating. Recommended, even for those (like me) less familiar with the genre.
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