Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Percy Mayfield

  • Poet of the Blues [Specialty, 1992] A-
  • His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides [Rhino Handmade, 2004]

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Poet of the Blues [Specialty, 1992]
Lionized by r&b aficionados who'd rather groove a lounge than rock a joint, Mayfield has the substance operators like Charles Brown and Jesse Belvin made a show of. Compiler Billy Vera might have varied the flow with oddments from the follow-up, Memory Pain. But except for Willie Dixon, widely suspected of exploiting help he didn't talk about, no one on the jumping postwar black pop scene wrote with more brains or care, and he sang with a nicely oiled confidence that never ground against his suave, full arrangements. Not a god for most of us, but a resource--a sufferer who had more to say about suicide than is dreamt of in Metallica's philosophy. A-

His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides [Rhino Handmade, 2004]
Excepting Muddy Waters wordman Willie Dixon, the eloquent depressive Percy Mayfield was the blues's greatest post-World War II songwriter, and unlike Dixon he could sing. The classic tracks on two Specialty compilations were cut before a disfiguring accident ended his live career. But this collection captures his professional peak, when Ray Charles had him under contract. In 1961, Mayfield's "Hit the Road Jack" went No. 1 for Charles, who reciprocated by putting its creator in the studio with crack musicians who loved him. His baritone blurred by booze and tribulation, Mayfield doesn't completely nail such self-explanatory titles as "River's Invitation" and "Life Is Suicide." But even on this completist package's lesser songs, you can hear him brooding--and trying to put a wry face on it. [Blender: 3]

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